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The COVID-19 Wake-Up Call – Is it all Bad?

Updated: Aug 17, 2023

This week we are expanding our normal commentary on the intersection of life and economic development funding to look a bit more broadly at how our behavior impacts the world in which we live. Our interests span much more than raising money and with many of us trying to figure out the new normal, we are all searching for the positives that may come from this mess in which we currently find ourselves.  

The COVID-19 Wake-Up Call – Is it all Bad?

By Doug Radcliff, RDG Director of Innovation and Global Research

When someone initially reads this title, an instinctive response would be a resounding YES! Of course, COVID-19 is all bad! The world is getting sick, significant numbers of people are dying, the economy has come to an unprecedented halt, with worldwide quarantines, stay at home orders and non-essential shops closing their doors, trying to find ways to stay in business. So yes, of course COVID-19 has been catastrophic! But does that mean we should look at this situation as a complete loss, with nothing beneficial coming out of it? No. Although it goes without saying that the world, the people, the economy and life in general would be much better if we never had to deal with the virus (or any of the sort), but we, as humanity, should use this as an environmental wake-up call.

For decades now, people have been conflicted about climate change; some working to stop climate change, or, conversely, others working to stop those that are trying to fight climate change. On one side of the table there are those environmental scientists displaying how the environment and climate is changing in negative ways. On the other are those who either feel climate change is a hoax, or perchance we simply do not have the ability to mitigate climate change, or perhaps they feel that it is real, but that humans do not directly impact climate change, and therefore, it is not a serious enough topic for humanity to dedicate its time or resources to fight.

I say we should use the COVID-19 wake-up call to further advance combating climate change. Throughout the world, animals are slowly becoming more active in places they normally would not, water pollution is decreasing in city canals, air pollution levels are drastically decreasing, etc., etc.

Although COVID-19 is highly recognized due to the number of deaths it is causing globally, what about the possibility of saving lives due to the extreme reduction in air pollution? Stanford University researchers have claimed that the lower air pollution has been met with fewer deaths from breathing polluted air. In just two months from reduced air pollution, it is estimated that 73,000 adults over 70 and 4,000 children under the age of five have not prematurely died, due to the reduction in air pollution.

CHINA, SOUTH KOREAINDIA and EUROPE provide great examples of a considerable reduction in air pollution in recent months.

Researchers have estimated that Europe has avoided a large number of premature deaths due to air pollution in recent months. More specifically, it is estimated that the health benefits resulting from the reduced air pollution is equivalent to averting 11,300 premature deaths. For example, it is estimated that in each, Germany, Italy and the UK, more than 1,500 premature deaths were avoided due to the reduced air pollution, with average European Citizens being exposed to 37% lower levels of NO2 than normal.

In the most recent months, the UNITED STATES has also been experiencing very similar trends. With NO2 levels drastically decreasing, almost all major cities are experiencing better air quality. Washington D.C is currently experiencing the cleanest spring air in the city for the past 25 years, and Los Angeles, traditionally one of the worst cities for air quality in the country, has experienced significant drops in NO2. In the Northeast, in the last month, there was a reported 30% reduction in NO2 from previous years.

March 2015-2019 NO2 average vs. March 2020

This information is by no means meant to downplay the catastrophe of COVID-19, which is truly an atrocious virus. However, it is intended to display that if we take this information seriously, i.e. the fact that humans have a strong impact on their environment and air pollution surrounding us, when the world returns to normal, the economy returns to normal, people begin flying more domestically and internationally, returning to work, etc., we, as inhabitants of this planet, have an indisputable responsibility to be aware of how significantly our collective actions impact the earth. Therefore, when we do return to normal, we need to return to normal with a different perspective – we need to be knowledgeable that we have the ability to help save the environment, and ipso facto, save ourselves.

As stated by UN secretary general, António Guterres, “[The recovery from the coronavirus pandemic offers] an opportunity to build more sustainable and inclusive economies and societies – a more resilient and prosperous world.” Are you interested in specific examples on how governments can revamp the economy, post-coronavirus, in an economically friendly and sustainable way? Click here to see some specific examples.

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