Air Quality and Health Risks During the Pandemic

The global financial and commodity markets are facing economic distortions caused by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Oil has been dramatically affected due to community lockdown regulations, shutdown of car factories, decline in energy use, and increase in unemployment. However, a decrease in oil consumption may lead to reductions in carbon-dioxide emissions. Air pollution is considered a negative contributor in the coronavirus situation by worsening the susceptibility of infection. A decline in emissions somehow may help prevent mortality temporarily, especially among more vulnerable individuals with underlying health conditions, such as heart and respiratory diseases. A UGA agricultural and applied economist worked with a University of Florida researcher to link the decline in oil consumption to improved air quality. They analyzed the relationship between air quality, pre-existing medical conditions, and vulnerability to COVID-19 infection. Summarizing their conclusions, they said in spite of all the negativity surrounding the pandemic, its environmental consequence of improved air quality is a highly positive note. Interestingly the global community has been trying to accomplish such a feat of attaining better air quality over many years of discussions, policymaking, and policing each other. Unexpectedly, it took a serious pandemic to realize such a feat. The study traces the interplay of reduced oil consumption with economic issues as well as environmental consequences under pandemic conditions. The more imperative issues now lie on the severity of a looming recession and the global economy’s resiliency in transcending the difficult challenges it may bring. Should that happen, will the economic cost burdens be outweighed by the realized environmental gains? Experts may be quick to assert that improved environmental conditions actually may be short-lived as expected resurgence of resumed economic activities may only quickly bring back pre-COVID air conditions. However, proponents of a cleaner world can always draw some inspiration from recent successes in air quality control, especially with the assurance that cleaner air is not necessarily a lofty goal. The challenge in the future lies in achieving such environmental benefit without the need to sacrifice the economic health of the global community.