Earth Day takes place on 22 April 2021, and like previous years this year’s Earth Day will focus on the global climate crisis. The events to mark Earth Day will take place online this year due to the pandemic, but Earth Day organisers do not think this will impact the international day of environmental action.
This year’s theme is ‘Restore our Earth’ and focuses on ‘innovative thinking that can restore the world’s ecosystem’.
The World Health Organisation has termed air pollution as one of the main contributors to the climate emergency, calling it ‘a silent public health emergency’. During lockdown there were changes to UK air quality, with NO2 reductions due to remote working, and Earth Day organisers are keen to capitalise on the importance of human behaviour and its impact on air pollutant levels. Road transport is considered to be a major contributor to air pollution levels which are posing a critical global health risk. The onset of a global pandemic has only served to highlight the urgent need to tackle air pollution.
Covid and Air Pollution
Last year, Earth Day organisers launched the EC2020 app which was developed to enable people from around the world to record air quality. Large-scale monitoring can help develop research and direct future environmental policies. According to Earth Day organisers, this level of monitoring and reporting is especially important now as global leaders prepare their Covid recovery plans.
Air pollution can be considered as toxic to humanity as the global pandemic is, killing approximately 7 million people every year. Dirty air coupled with Covid-19 increased the global death toll, particularly in areas where the pollution levels are the highest. Air pollution contributes to a weakening of the lungs, so when combined with Covid-19, a disease that attacks the respiratory system, what emerged was a pandemic that affected the most vulnerable people with the poorest quality air the hardest.
Francesca Dominici, a biostatistics professor from Harvard University, found a link between Covid-19 death rates and air pollution. Her findings are critical when it comes to planning preventative measures, care, and treatment for those in highly polluted areas.
Deaths Linked To Air Pollution
We already knew that air pollution can lead to death. In 2013, Ella Kissi-Debrah died after a severe asthma attack. In 2018, coroner Philip Barlow ruled that unlawful levels of air pollution contributed significantly to Ella’s death.
A report from the Royal College of Physicians in 2016 had already reported that 40,000 early deaths in the UK are caused by air pollution every year.
Whilst successive lockdowns in the UK may have led to a reduction in the levels of air pollution, it is not a sustainable solution to reducing pollution. With fewer traffic and transport emissions, the air may have felt cleaner but the pollution levels are showing a return to pre-pandemic levels as the economy returns to normal.
Earth Day 2021 encourages world leaders to address the issue of air pollution, and address its inequitable impact on communities and individuals.
Air pollution is an ongoing threat to global health, especially within the context of a global pandemic. Whilst lockdown provided us with an opportunity to experience the benefits of cleaner air, we need long-term, sustainable policies which tackle the issue of air pollution. Not addressing air pollution means that whilst we are fighting Covid-19, we are losing the battle against an even bigger global threat to public health.
Earth Day is about encouraging world leaders and industry to facilitate research and investment with a view to understanding the full impact of polluted air on health, wellbeing and our ecosystem. A strategic, collated, and consistent national response is required to tackle the problem of air pollution. What the pandemic has taught us is that all we are all susceptible to a global pandemic, but improving our air quality will strengthen the chances we have of fighting disease and restoring our environment.