YAKIMA — Reduced traffic and work commutes have likely lowered nitrogen dioxide pollution and improved people’s quality of life during the COVID-19 pandemic, Washington state experts said.
“Certainly commuting is a big way we spend our time and burn fossil fuels,” said Kristi Strauss, an environmental lecturer at the University of Washington.
“The reduced traffic has not only improved carbon emissions, but also quality of life. I don’t know anyone who values their time spent in traffic.”
But the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports that reducing greenhouse gas emissions for the short period of time “is not a sustainable way to clean up our environment,” the Yakima Herald-Republic reported.
A report on how the state’s “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order affected air quality in the state tracked fine particulate matter and included observations from four stations in Yakima County.
Graduate student Bujin Bekbulat found that the air was dirtier than expected in April, cleaned up in May and decreased in quality again in June when the state order was lifted, following trends.
It was also noted that city concentrations in Seattle were 30 percent lower than expected since the stay-home order went into place.
Strauss believes people will continue at least some of their practices established by COVID-19: flying less, gardening and cooking, exercising more and embracing telework.
“I can’t imagine people will go back easily to the frenetic pace of life, of always wanting more, more, more,” she said.
Strauss recommended some of the ways to contribute to bettering the environment include eating less meat, gardening and cooking more, flying less, and buying local or not at all.
Bekbulat said reducing consumption rather than reusing or recycling items makes the most difference for the planet.
“Everything we buy and throw away after a couple of uses ends up in a landfill here or in developing countries, and all of that comes with an enormous carbon and water footprint,” she said.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death. The vast majority of people recover.