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Clean Air at last – but at what cost

An article from EMSOL CEO and co-founder, Freddie Talberg sharing his thoughts on the current situation with COVID-19.
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An article from EMSOL CEO and co-founder, Freddie Talberg

I think that it is fair to say that we have not seen a few weeks like the ones that we have just had. Who could have thought that, even at the start of the month, we would be faced with school closures huge bailouts of the economy? It is hard to figure out the impact with it all.

As is human nature, we all look for how this is affecting what we are interested in during such times. I know a few friends who are annoyed that the football season has been delayed! And it is no different to us when it comes to the impacts on air quality. Which have been pretty big and immediate.

In both China and Italy, there have been significant and immediate reductions in levels of air pollution in response to government lockdowns to tackle the virus outbreak. This partly shows the value of having excellent quality open data, such as that provided by the European Space Agency, which allows us to monitor the impacts of such measures in real-time.

Looking around London where I live, I can see the impacts for myself. There is less traffic on the streets, and even Underground stations are now being shut. Both of which are reducing exposure to particulates and other sources of air pollution.

We should be careful about the conclusions that can be made from this. These air pollution effects are as a result of a significant economic intervention that has essentially shut down all economic activity in response to a major public health emergency. Clearly this is not sustainable without a significant impact on our wellbeing.

But it makes me wonder. Where is the point between taking baby steps (as has been much of the policy over the years) and a massive public health emergency (as we are seeing now) that is a happy medium? Can we possibly balance economic and social wellbeing whilst having a meaningful impact upon pollution levels in our cities?

This crisis is leading to most of us asking some fundamental questions of how we live our lives, and the long term impacts of what we do. It would be foolish to predict what will happen in the future right now, but I would not be shocked if we emerged from this with a completely different attitude to how we tackle air quality issues in our towns and cities.

In the meantime, be safe everyone.

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