By Amy Harder, Naema Ahmed and Sarah Grillo

The pandemic is creating a temporary oasis of cleaner skies and waters, but at immense health and economic costs.

The big picture: It’s an ironic coincidence that this once-in-a-lifetime moment is happening around the 50th anniversary of Earth Day on Wednesday. These glimpses of a cleaner planet illustrate the challenge of cleaning the Earth up for the long haul. You know, longer than we’re social distancing.

Particulate matter concentrations in Indian cities — which have some of the highest levels of pollution in the world — dropped an average of 22.6% during the lockdown (March 24–April 4), compared to the average in December 2019, according to pollution data analyzed by University of Chicago experts.

“I wonder if this moment, this COVID-19 moment where we have this very large [pollution] reduction that is allowing people to think about the world in a different way in India, if this will, in five years from now, look like their Earth Day.”

— Michael Greenstone, executive director of the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago

The intrigue: Relatively speaking, America has really clean air (like President Trump often says), so detecting a drop in this kind of pollution here is more difficult. “It’s hard to detect statistical changes against the low levels that exist currently,” Greenstone said. In India, “the change is large enough, it can be detected.”

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Areas of Focus: COVID-19Environment
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Environment
Producing and using energy damages people’s health and the environment. EPIC research is quantifying the social costs of energy choices and uncovering policies that help protect health while facilitating growth.
Air Pollution
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Air Pollution
Air pollution from fossil fuel combustion poses a grave threat to human health worldwide. EPIC research is using real-world data to calculate the effects of air pollution on human health...
COVID-19
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COVID-19