The outbreak of the novel Coronavirus has wreaked havoc on many things: the global economy, public health systems, international trade and much more. Perhaps the only positive development in these uncertain times has been that the widespread lockdowns are giving the planet a much-needed breath of fresh air.

Amid widespread shutdowns, simply cutting tailpipe emissions have helped Indian cities breathe the cleanest air in decades.

Analysis of Delhi and Mumbai (India’s largest and most polluted cities) by Blue Sky Analytics, which combines data from satellites such as the Copernicus Sentinel-5P from the European Union’s Copernicus program, with on-ground air quality sensors, shows that levels of nitrogen dioxide fell drastically in March. Nitrogen dioxide is part of a group of gaseous air pollutants produced as a result of road traffic and other fossil fuel combustion processes.

The data showed that nitrogen dioxide levels from March to April 10 of last year (depicted in red clouds) in Mumbai and Delhi covered entire parts of the two cities, with deeper red signifying higher concentrations of the pollutant. Fast forward to this year, maps of the same regions showed a distinct difference: the clouds of nitrogen dioxide have nearly completely dissipated.

The effect is more remarkable in Delhi, which usually suffers from extremely bad air quality due to its land-locked geographical conditions. Since the national lockdown, which started on March 24, the permanent brown haze hanging over Delhi has lifted. So drastic was the change that many Delhi residents took to Twitter to express surprise at the clear skies and visible stars in the night sky. On multiple occasions, Delhi registered a sub 10 air quality, observed for the time in the entire decade

From a “flu-like” disease to a global pandemic, the speed with which COVID-19 has spread has stopped the world from turning for an indefinite amount of time.

An Unexpected Experiment

Reports across Europe and China show drastic improvements in air quality since lockdowns were enforced to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

This inadvertent experiment in drastically cutting down our dependence on fossil fuels and the resultant reduction in greenhouse emissions has shown us that reversing climate change is possible if we reduce our usage of fossil fuels to power our lives. A fact that big oil lobbyists have spent millions trying to obfuscate.

According to a report by data platform Statista in 2019 companies like BP, Shell, ExxonMobil, and Total spent over $200 million in lobbying and engage politicians and the public. The report states that this lobbying involves controlling, delaying, or blocking climate-related policy.

Though this grinding halt to the world economy and normal life is not a sustainable way to cut down greenhouse emissions, the COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdowns have shown that it is clearly not too late to reverse climate change. However, it is up to us to decide when our lives get back to normal; Do we get back to our old ways? or do we build towards a better future?