Good news on Earth Day 2020: The air is cleaner

On the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, scientists and environmentalists are noticing an unintended consequence of the economic shut down due to COVID-19.

The Earth is getting a lot cleaner.

“Us atmospheric scientists are studying this sudden change in emissions with great interest because it presents a golden opportunity,” said Scott Collis of Argonne Labs.

Scientist Collis says while this is not the way they would have chosen to do it, the global shutdown forced by COVID-19 has created something of a grand experiment.

With fewer cars on the road, the closure of factories and reduced demand for power and gas, the levels of ozone and nitrous dioxide in the atmosphere are plummeting.

“We are seeing anywhere from 25 to 50 percent reductions in these dioxide of nitrogen and ozone, and other chemicals,” Collis said.

Residents of India are seeing the Himalayas for the first time in decades, and in Los Angeles, the brown blanket of ozone has lifted.

“That tells us that it’s possible. So we’ve got to be resolved that pandemic or not, we’ve got to do everything possible to try to improve the quality of life,” Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said.

But experts say those pollution numbers will shoot right back up after the economy restarts, unless we make some permanent changes.

“By bicycling, taking public transit, by walking -- that will help us maintain better air quality,” said Susan Mudd of the Environmental Law and Policy Center.

And will our new practice of working from home continue after the COVID crisis ends?

“As we start to have more and more conferences, meetings and work from home by Zoom, are people going to like that and decide it’s a small price to pay for cleaner air?” Collis pondered.