The epidemic provides a chance to do good by the climate

Mar 26, 2020

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IN VENICE, WATER in the canals is running clear, offering glimpses of fish swimming against the current. As human activity grinds to a halt, natural rhythms resume. A similar, less visible story is being played out in the skies. Around the world, levels of toxic air pollutants are dropping as places go into lockdown in an attempt to curb the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the virus causing a pandemic of a new disease called covid-19. Emissions of greenhouse gases are following a similar pattern.

One example of pollution falling is that satellites looking down on China’s large cities have witnessed a dramatic drop since January in levels of nitrogen dioxide, a gas generated by machinery such as internal-combustion engines. This fall coincides with the imposition of a countrywide quarantine, travel restrictions, and the shutting down of power stations and factories. Nitrogen dioxide causes respiratory problems. A drop in its levels therefore brings benefits. The...

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