A recent episode of the Freakonomics podcast (excellent show by the way – make sure to listen) highlighted the fact that, based on pure data models, the reduction in pollution in Wuhan has likely saved more lives than the virus has killed.
In fact, the researchers, who based their numbers on the reductions in pollution and resulting reduction deaths and debilitating illnesses after the Beijing Olympics cleanup, estimated that the current pollution reduction will save 50,000 people. The virus, thus far, has claimed 1/10th of this in China.
So what’s the point? Should we listen to an economist and ignore the Coronavirus but continue to reduce pollution? Based on the cold, hard numbers that economists like to play with, the answer might be yes. But that’s an ethical and moral question and we can’t just flick a switch on our thinking. No compassionate and progressive society would sacrifice their older communities and less vulnerable members of society in some sort of cold, calculated risk management exercise.
This is akin to the herd mentality concept, which the current clown-in-chief of the UK decided to adopt and then quickly shove under the carpet once the outcry was loud enough. Only someone completely out of touch with reality would suggest it. And there lies the problem. Politicians are generally insulated from the problems everyday people face. The coronavirus is much harder on the poor. The low-skilled, low-paid contract workers that are essential to the world’s economies are the most affected. Yet, mere days before the pandemic hit the UK, it’s policy makers decided to create sweeping laws that banned low-skilled foreign workers from the country.
No compassionate and progressive society would sacrifice their older communities and less vulnerable members of society in some sort of cold, calculated risk management exercise
The truth. Is that there’s a global pandemic called pollution which kills hundreds of thousands of people each year. One of the positives to come out of this current tragic Coronavirus situation might be an increased awareness of the effects of pollution.
One of the hardest hit cities in the world, Venice, has been under quarantine for several weeks. The effects have been dramatic. The water in the famously stinky and black canals has become clear. The smells have gone. Dolphins are swimming around the harbours and even into the city canals. Swans have started to make themselves at home in places that are normally bursting with tourists.
But what’s going to happen once the restrictions are lifted? Will we go back to polluting the environment like before? The signs are that it might be worse than before. To help stimulate the economic engine, China has already loosened the already weak laws for businesses in regard to disposing of waste and cutting emissions. Will the rest of the world follow suit? Will we sacrifice our environment in order to pay our rents and put food on the table. Something tells me we will.