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Air Pollution is a Major Contributor to Climate Change

Since the industrial revolution, air pollution such as greenhouse gas emissions, has skyrocketed from increased human activity of intense fossil fuel extraction and use, large scale farming, and over consumption. Now, we are facing the consequence of global climate change. We are experiencing increasingly more destructive and prevalent, mass extinctions of plants and animals, melting of polar ice caps, sea level rise, forest fires, and hurricanes.


Greenhouse Gases Decreased During the COVID-19 Pandemic

At the same time as greenhouse gas levels are increasing in our atmosphere, another count is happening too. People are being infected with a new strain of the coronavirus. But in an attempt to lessen the spread of this deadly virus, people are traveling far less than before. As a result, greenhouse gas emissions have decreased from one sector. Hence, the current pandemic has caught the attention of many environmentalists with the sight of blue skies in China and India. But is a pandemic really a solution to decrease air pollution from transportation? 


Blue Skies and Air Quality Improvements in China and India

One study done in China found that in thirty-one provincial capital cities there was an overall improvement of air quality during the coronavirus pandemic between January 1, 2020 to May 2, 2020, thanks to people traveling and moving around less. This improvement in air quality avoided 9,410 premature deaths and a health related economic loss of 19.4 billion USD. A similar trend was observed in India. A study conducted in Delhi, India found that ambient air pollution was reduced significantly at the start of the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic lockdown. Pristine blue skies were seen as a result. But these effects have been temporary. In both studies, they stress that more air pollution regulation needs to be implemented if we want to continue to avoid deaths, economic losses, and see blue skies in places that we normally do not. 


Dark Clouds in the U.S. 

 At the start of the pandemic in the United States, a letter was received from the American Petroleum Institute. They wrote that they may lack the ability to comply with regulations due to the pandemic. As a result, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)  announced a roll back of environmental regulations and implemented a nonenforcement policy.  A nonenforcement policy is a temporary policy where no penalties will be issued if one does not comply with regulations. These regulations include routine compliance monitoring, integrity testing, sampling, laboratory analysis, training, reporting, and certification. Without proper oversight of the EPA, companies were given the freedom to disregard environmental protections, such as air quality regulations. The aforementioned essentially put the environment and people at a higher risk of health implications without consequence to the polluters. This becomes an issue of special attention when a pandemic affecting lungs is costing human lives across the globe.


 Air Pollution May Increase Susceptibility to COVID-19 

Air pollution harms the immune system, making people more susceptible to viral attacks. Rolling back environmental regulations puts more people at risk of contracting respiratory illnesses due to the increase in air pollution. Some studies suggest that since there is evidence of increased air pollution causing increased cases of respiratory illnesses, it is not far off to assume that increased air pollution causes susceptibility to COVID-19. As a result of lockdowns during the pandemic, air pollution has decreased in some countries. But is still not enough to help combat climate change, and may even increase our likelihood of contracting coronavirus. 


This Pandemic Has Been a Learning Experience 

The COVID-19 pandemic has emphasized the severity of climate change impacts on human health as well as shed light on environmental conditions. Consistency is key to combat the issue of climate change. We need to be consistent with the changes we make and engage in more sustainable practices. In a brighter light, this pandemic has been a learning experience. And has, to some degree, shown that we can work together in battling complex and urgent issues. This information is something that we the people can use to work towards a better future. We can do this through collective action, voting for people who prioritize people and the environment, and making changes in our individual lives. 


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