Covid compared to air pollution

Torstai 22.6.2023 klo 17:57 - Mikko Nikinmaa

The covid pandemic closed the world for the better part of two years. Travel restrictions, mask mandates, chaos in hospitals…So went 2020-2022. And many people’s scare still persists. However, it is now time to relate the threat of covid to other problems we face, largely because the drastic measures most people were ready accept indicates that strong response to imminent crisis is possible.

The covid pandemic came out of nowhere very rapidly. That is the main reason for the strong response. In the beginning we did not know, how the disease would evolve and if the health care systems would be able to respond to the increasing disease pressure. Now, three years later, we are much wiser, vaccines have been developed, treatments are more effective than in the start and the virus has probably evolved so that new mutants cause less serious infection. Thus, life has normalized and coronavirus does not dominate the news. There  have been about 600 000 000 reported cases so far (although the true case load is certainly much higher, maybe 2-3 billion). The reported death toll is approximately 8 000 000, giving 1.3 % mortality.

These numbers are important, as they enable comparisons to deaths caused by air pollution. It is usually said that the reason why government do not respond to pollution as they did to coronavirus is the former being “tomorrow” and the latter “today” problem. Since combatting pollution would mean expenses, economic growth today would be disturbed, thus actions are delayed until there are economic resources to do them. Such “we’ll do things tomorrow” attitude was not possible for covid. However, one must seriously ask, if air pollution is a “tomorrow” problem. Every year it  directly causes 10 000 000 deaths, i.e., clearly more than covid has caused during the pandemic. In addition to direct mortality, indirect deaths occur, and asthma cases increase massively. Thus, air pollution is a “today” problem, and by making actions against it, one would also combat climate change. The economic cost of failing to do actions against air pollution is far greater than the funds needed for mitigating air pollution as a result of sick leaves, needs for hospital beds etc. And here, as in the case of climate change, we already have the technology needed for actions against air pollution.

We only need to accept that we have a “today” problem, which must be solved. Solving it may initially carry economic costs. However, in the long run the costs will most likely be recovered, and they will certainly be much smaller today than in future. Instead of asking: do we have the economic means to stop air pollution, we should ask: can we avoid economic collapse in future, if we do not stop air pollution today.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: coronavirus, climate change, mortality, economy, tomorrow ptoblem