It’s hard to think of the future right now. With events constantly happening, and in the midst of arguably the biggest challenge facing the UK since the end of World War II, thinking of what the world could be like is very difficult indeed.
But think of it we must. Especially as the science around the impact of COVID-19 on our health is beginning to emerge. How this relates to improving the air in our cities is more complicated than you may think. On the one hand, an immediate improvement in the air quality in our towns and cities is likely to reduce the impacts of poor air quality on lung health. However, where there has already been long term exposure to poor air quality, with the resulting poorer lung health, may make people more susceptible to contracting COVID-19.
A new study from Harvard suggests that with just a small increase in particulate pollution is associated with a 15% increase in the COVID-19 death rate. Research scientists will likely be kept busy for many years to come as more information comes to light about the impact of pollution on respiratory health.
What has become clear is that our world has changed rapidly. The implications of which we are still getting our heads around. But it has given us a glimpse into parts of an alternative future. A future where urban air quality is tackled in a meaningful way. Where there are substantial reductions in air pollution levels in our cities over an extended period of time, and where the true air quality impacts of transport are considered as a whole, and not through blunt instruments that have little effect.
There is no doubt that a transition to a lower air pollution world is a difficult one. But the evidence is pointing to improved air quality being critical for respiratory health and the long term management of and recovery from COVID-19.
The challenge for those of us in the environmental space is how we make sustainability stick, and use this challenge to our way of life to achieve something better. Today is far from business as normal. Lets ensure the future isn’t business as normal either.