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COVID-19 is changing the environment

A drop in travel and shuttered businesses has resulted in noticeably cleaner air: China's CO2 emissions are down 25% and satellite images show drops in pollution worldwide.

March 26, 2020


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In order to combat COVID-19 through social distancing, governments all over the world have mandated lockdowns for huge portions of their citizens. Entire sectors of the economy have disappeared virtually overnight as restaurants, gyms, retailers, and other "non-essential" businesses have been forced to close. With no where to go, people are doing just that: going nowhere.

The four biggest U.S. airlines have cut flights by more than 40%. Los Angeles' notoriously packed highways are mostly empty. NYC's subway ridership has dropped 87%. But the drop in travel and shuttered businesses has resulted in noticeably cleaner air: China's CO2 emissions are down 25% and satellite images show drops in pollution worldwide.

Although China and the U.S. are both planning economic stimulus packages to combat the financial harm of the pandemic, China’s plan may include building more coal power plants—even while other countries are phasing them out. Since China’s air pollution causes many respiratory problems and kills thousands prematurely, the government will have to weigh if the need for cheap energy exceeds the need for clean air.

More about China and the environment:


January 28, 2021 - 4:00pm

Jennifer Pan examines how China's major social assistance program, Dibao, has been used to quell dissent.

February 4, 2021 - 4:00pm

Scott Rozelle discusses his new book that looks at the stark contrast between China's rural and urban populations.