The global lockdown inspired by the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, has shuttered factories and reduced travel, slashing lethal pollution including the greenhouse gases that are heating the climate.
The lockdown may save more lives from pollution reduction than are threatened by the virus itself, said François Gemenne, director of The Hugo Observatory, which studies the interactions between environmental changes, human migration, and politics.
“Strangely enough, I think the death toll of the coronavirus at the end of the day might be positive, if you consider the deaths from atmospheric pollution,” said Gemenne, citing, for example, the 48,000 people who die annually in France because of atmospheric pollution and the more than one million in China.
Scientists estimate the U.S. death toll from air pollution at more than 100,000 per year, and the World Health Organization estimates the global toll at 7 million.
The discrepancy in how we react to these divergent threats should give us pause, Gemenne said, to consider why it is that we respond so strongly to one with less lethality and so weakly to one with more.
“These are quite fascinating times. What surprises me most is that the measures that we are ready to take to face this coronavirus are much more severe than the measures we would be ready to take to face climate change or atmospheric pollution,” Gemenne said.
See Coronavirus Lockdown May Save More Lives By Preventing Pollution Than By Preventing Infection
The coronavirus lockdown may save more lives from pollution reduction than are lost to the virus itself, said François Gemenne, director of The Hugo Observatory.