COVID-19 Clears the Air

COVID-19 Clears the Air

What happens when the entire world goes on lockdown for three months? Earth has a chance to recover from decades of human activity. With many factories closed and millions of cars off the streets, the amount of air pollution has decreased dramatically. In just a few short months, scientists have seen huge improvements in air quality all over the world.

COVID-19 and Air Pollution

What impact do industries have on air quality? Scientists have been pondering this exact question for decades, and in 2020, they finally got their answer. When the World Health Organization (WHO) officially declared COVID-19 a pandemic in March, the economy came to a grinding halt. Businesses shuttered their doors, and people holed up inside their homes as a way to help stop the spread of the virus.  

As a result, scientists got a rare glimpse into what the world would be like if we simply stopped emitting so many pollutants into the air. The results were astonishing. Deadly particulate matter dropped by as much as 60 percent in some of the world’s largest, most polluted urban centers, such as New Delhi, India, and Seoul, South Korea. The thick layer of smog that typically hovers over Beijing, China, temporarily cleared to reveal blue skies overhead.

Scientists now have first-hand evidence that major changes in human activity can have a significant impact on Earth’s air quality. However, they began to warn that while the lack of emissions in the air showed promising results, they were only temporary. Once industries started up again after the pandemic, the situation would quickly return to normal if people didn’t take serious action to resolve the issue.

According to the WHO, air pollution is a public health crisis of its own. Each year, millions of people die from health issues caused by breathing in toxic pollutants found in ambient (outdoor) air. In addition to severe health effects, air pollution contributes to crop and forest damage, ozone depletion, global climate change, and more. Policies and initiatives aimed at finding cleaner ways to generate power, transport people and goods, manage waste, and reduce energy use in homes are just a few of the ways governments and organizations are working to reduce air pollution and create a cleaner world.

Discussing the clear skies seen during the COVID-19 pandemic is a great way to get young people talking about what air pollution is and the effects it has on both human health and the environment.

Just the Facts

Our expert researchers have vetted the most current content to give you easy answers about the basics. Here’s what you need to know right now:

  • Outdoor air pollution consists of tobacco smoke, noxious gases, ground-level ozone, and the fine particles created when fossil fuels are burned.
  • Air pollution is found in developed and developing countries all over the world. However, low- and middle-income countries in the Western Pacific and Southeast Asia face the highest risk.
  • China produces more carbon dioxide emissions than any other country in the world, followed by the United States and India.
  • More than 4.2 million people worldwide die from health-related conditions caused by air pollution each year. Cancer, respiratory illnesses, and heart problems are just a few of the most serious conditions related to air quality.
  • About 91 percent of the world’s population lives in areas where the air quality ranks below the standards outlined by the WHO.
  • One-third of the world went on lockdown to help curb the spread of COVID-19.
  • In the United States, air travel dropped by 96 percent during the pandemic, and driving was reduced by 35 to 50 percent.
  • Between February 26 and March 18, the city of Wuhan, China, where COVID-19 was first identified, reported air pollution levels that were 44 percent lower than they were during the same timeframe the year before.
  • On March 25, India’s entire population of 1.3 billion people was placed on lockdown, causing most factories, shops, and transportations services to close. Within three weeks, unhealthy air-quality hours were just 17 percent in New Delhi compared to 68 percent in 2019.

Featured in the_News

Now that you know the facts about the impact of COVID-19 on air quality, check out these fascinating human interest stories from around the world.

Read: Coronavirus Offers a Clear View of What Causes Air Pollution

Read: Global Air Pollution Has Fallen Due to the Coronavirus Outbreak

Read: These Countries Produce the Most CO2 Emissions

Watch: What China's Pollution Says About Coronavirus and the Economy


Conversation Starters

Depending on the ages of your students and the topics you teach, the fact that a pandemic has had such a huge impact on the amount of pollution around the world offers a wide variety of interesting classroom discussion ideas.

General discussions about hot topics and current affairs related to air pollution, the COVID-19 pandemic, and climate change.

  • What is climate change?
  • Why did countries lockdown during the COVID-19 crisis?
  • How did closing factories and halting transportation reduce air pollution?

Lead-in for discussions about relevant air pollution.

  • What causes air pollution?
  • Why is air pollution bad?

What can people do to help stop air pollution?

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 Classroom Topics

  • Extraordinary citizens and role models.
  • Acts of kindness to positively impact the world (benefit their own lives and the lives of others).
  • Teach others to be better people by the way they lead their lives.