Trade-offs between Improved Air Quality and Health Risks During the Pandemic

Summary

A general economic slowdown during the pandemic overtly reflected in, among others, reduced consumer demand, spiraling unemployment figures, and significant drop in oil consumption causes heightened fears of an imminent economic recession. However, in spite of all the negativity surrounding the pandemic, its environmental consequence of improved air quality is a highly positive note. As air pollution is 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.

Situation

The global financial and commodity markets are facing economic distortions caused by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic (Fernandes 2020; Irwin 2020). COVID-19 acts as a negative shock to overall demand of goods and services, resulting in aggravated short-run volatility in prices (Albulescu 2020). Among these products, oil has been dramatically affected due to community lockdown regulations, shutdown of car factories, decline in energy use, and increase in unemployment (Reed 2020a; The Associated Press 2020). However, a decrease in oil consumption may lead to reductions in carbon-dioxide emissions (Peña-Lévano et al. 2019). Data recorded by EPA (2020) during March-April 2020 shows an improvement in overall air quality, especially in high-density populated cities (Regan 2020). Air pollution is considered by many scientists as 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 (Conticini et al. 2020; Dutheil et al. 2020; Mooney 2020; Ogen 2020).

Response

This project’s proponent collaborated with a researcher from the University of Florida to put together an article that links decline in oil consumption to improved air quality. Moreover, the relationship between air quality, pre-existing medical conditions, and vulnerability to COVID-19 infection has also been analyzed. A journal article was completed and is now published in the August 2020 issue of the highly acclaimed journal, Environmental and Resource Economics.

Impact

Current restrictions on social mobility and economic flexibility under COVID-19 pandemic conditions have actually produced important economic and environmental repercussions that are interestingly contrasting. A general economic slowdown overtly reflected in, among others, reduced consumer demand, spiraling unemployment figures, and significant drop in oil consumption causes heightened fears of an imminent economic recession. However, 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 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 feat. The study conducted 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.

State Issue

Sustainability, Conservation, and the Environment

Details

  • Year: 2020
  • Geographic Scope: International
  • County: Clarke
  • Location: College Station, Athens
  • Program Areas:
    • Agriculture & Natural Resources

Author

    Escalante, Cesar L.

Collaborator(s)

Non-CAES Collaborator(s)

  • Luis Pena-Levano
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