Chalk Up Another Benefit to the Big Lockdown…

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
chalk up another benefit to the big lockdown 8230

Barring low gas prices you couldn’t take advantage of and your author’s adventures in cooking with curry, the past two months didn’t bring much in the way of benefits. Millions are out of work, nerves are frayed, hospital ICUs remain crowded with COVID-19 patients, and bad takes still run rampant on Twitter. Daily!

Anyone who did venture outdoors this spring, however, may have noticed one specific change for the better, and science now backs it up.

The air. Fresh, springtime scented, dangerous droplet carrying air. Turns out it was fresher than before, and not just because leaving the house distanced your olfactory senses from laundry pushed well beyond its best-before date.

According to readings taken in April by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), air quality improved drastically during the height of the nation’s lockdown measures. Pollutants found in abundance flowing from internal combustion vehicles’ tailpipes tapered off, leaving a noticeable change in the smog levels of certain locales. Photos from around the globe soon contrasted the “before” and “after” of the situation, with heavily polluted cities revealing far more of their skyline to distant viewers. In some cases, mountains appeared on the horizon for the first time in ages.

Thanks to this, a plethora of nearly identical “nature is healing” social media posts quickly turned the phrase into a meme.

The NOAA’s COVID Air Quality Study looked into two regions: the crowded Northeast and urban Colorado. As reported by Reuters, the study — which amassed air quality data from ground monitors, airplanes, and satellites — revealed a sizable decrease in lung irritants and greenhouse gases.

Between Boston and Washington, DC, levels of smog-forming nitrogen oxide fell an average of 25 to 30 percent compared to normal, with carbon dioxide levels down 15 to 20 percent. That’s with road traffic down by about half.

In Colorado, where cities huddle together for safety and warmth, urban nitrogen oxide and carbon monoxide levels fell 30 percent, the study found. Other bad organic emissions saw their numbers halved.

While the study shows the scale of the lockdowns, it also hands eco types a bucket of data with which to advocate for less fossil fuel use — especially as it pertains to the private car. If the same number of vehicles taken off the road in April simply dropped their ICEs and switched to battery power, the fresh pandemic air experienced last month would become a daily occurrence, the argument goes. And it’s true, but the benefit could only be realized fully if those electric vehicles sourced their electrons from a wall socket or charging handle with no upstream emissions.

In Colorado’s case, coal produced 45 percent of the state’s electricity in 2019. A declining figure, residents would tell you.

[Image: LanaElcova/Shutterstock]

Join the conversation
11 of 73 comments
  • Pwrwrench Pwrwrench on May 14, 2020

    I read that the air in SoCal, infamous for smog, was cleaner during the "please stay home" and closure of many businesses, partly from fewer vehicles on the roads and also it was the tail end of the rainy season here. There air is noticeably cleaner after a rain in 'normal times' or now. As soon as the rains were done there were a few weeks of much warmer weather. Most areas over 90 F. Soon the brown haze of smog reappeared.

    • See 2 previous
    • -Nate -Nate on May 15, 2020

      @pwrwrench Yes and no ~ 50 miles is a long ways, I drive pretty much daily from the foot of the San Gabriel Mountains through the center in down town Los Angeles to South Central and yes, it was fantastic for a few weeks and it's still far, far better than it was in the 1960's and 1970's but also yes, that persistant brown cloud is back and getting worse although no where as bad as it was . The late night traffic here has gotten *so* bad I no longer will ride my Moto after dark . Every few hours a iniot of more collide and invariably flip over with resulting massive injuries . Drive, you must ~ yes but don't be an asshole about it . -Nate

  • JMII JMII on May 14, 2020

    NOAA? Don't they claim the earth is round by using so called satellites in orbit? Poppycock! Who believes this stuff? They are controlling the weather with chem trails from commercial airplanes so making the smog go away was easy. I read on the internet that NOAA invented COVID-19 since their hurricane machine has been off line for repairs. j/k

    • See 5 previous
    • -Nate -Nate on May 17, 2020

      @-Nate Yabbutt ; Then I have to wear a chin strap to prevent it from falling off and you alls know I'm an old guy on a fixed budget ~ those damned batteries don't last as long as I'd like and I only buy the 'bunny batteries'..... -Nate

  • Dukeisduke I saw a well-preserved Mark VII LSC on the road not too long ago, and I had to do a double-take. They still have a presence. Back when these were new, a cousin of mine owned an LSC with the BMW turbo diesel.
  • Dukeisduke I imagine that stud was added during the design process for something, and someone further along the process forgot to delete it after it became unnecessary.
  • Analoggrotto Knew about it all along but only now did the risk analysis tilt against leaving it there.
  • Mike Beranek Funny story about the '80 T-bird. My old man's Dart Sport had given up the ghost so he was car-shopping. He & I dropped my mom at a store and then went to the Ford dealer, where we test-drove the new T-Bird (with digital dash!)So we pull up to the store to pick mom up. She walks out and dad says "We just bought it.". Mom stares at the Mulroney- almost 13 grand- and just about fell over.Dad had not in fact bought the T-Bird, instead he got a Cordoba for only 9 grand.
  • EngineerfromBaja_1990 I'd love a well preserved Mark VII LSC with the HO 5.0 for a weekend cruiser. Its design aged better than both the VI and VIII. Although I'd gladly take the latter as well (quad cam V8 and wrap around interior FTW)