China's Efforts To Control Coronavirus Leads To Less Air Pollution
China's efforts to control the corona virus have meant many residents stayed at home in factories. Just shut down. That had an unintended effect. Less air pollution cleaner air can improve public health. Maybe even save lives joining me to explain why that isn't so simple. In China right now is NPR climate correspondent Lawrence Summer. Hi Laurin I Rachel. All right first off just explain. How big the drop was in air pollution. In China it was significant. It was down a quarter two third in some places compared to the same time period last year. And that's because people have been driving less but the big thing is coal consumption because power plants and industry has ramped down. We're starting to see an uptick. As China's activity is increasing. And that hasn't been true everywhere. Beijing actually saw an air pollution spike outdoors and February. Because there was a weather pattern trapping the pollution there okay so if power plants factories were running less that also means carbon emissions dropped. That's right about a quarter now. That's a tiny fraction of China's yearly emissions but it still substantial because China is the largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world so even that Short period of time in China equals would a state like Illinois or Ohio emits an entire year. Wow so even though. It's only a little bit over a month that we're talking about for these improvements. It's substantial enough to make a difference in people's lives. Yeah even a short term drop in something like air. Pollution can actually have benefits and a good example of that is the two thousand eight summer Olympics in Beijing to improve air quality during the Games government officials limited car traffic and they shut down factories and researchers actually tracked people during that time period and they saw improvements in cardiovascular health and lung health. They found that babies whose mothers spent their third trimester during the Olympic Games. Were born with heavier verse weights. Okay so that was years ago our people in China right now. Seeing those benefits yeah. It's a good question because the potential is really big here. You know. It's estimated that air pollution is linked to more than a million deaths per year in China. So I put that question to Jill. Baumgartner she's an environmental epidemiologist at McGill University. It would be a mischaracterization to say that the crow virus was beneficial to health because of these air pollution reductions in addition to tens of thousands of people who were impacted by the virus in China place stress on people's lives and on the healthcare system and lots of other sectors. She says that people with health conditions other than cove in nineteen may have not been getting the healthcare. They really needed during this time. Period and people may have spent more time indoors so they would have been exposed to more secondhand smoke potentially or indoor air pollution from coal-burning stoves which are used in some parts of rural China. Presumably though as the corona virus is contained in China. This drop we've seen in emissions is going to be a race by the fact that the factories the power plants. They're going to go back online and return to normal right. Yea and of course. There's an incredible human toll here associated with this reduction in emissions and there's also a high likelihood that it's going to be canceled out as China tries to make up for its economic losses and really starts ramping up power plants and factories in the near term. Npr climate correspondent. Lauren summer. Thank you thanks.