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New Data Shows How Much Local Conditions Affect Air Pollution

2 min read
Apr 21, 2020

How we work and conduct business affects the environment in too many ways to count. Recent data about how pollution levels have changed during COVID-19 lockdowns also show just how local these effects can be. On the eve of Earth Day, it’s worth taking a closer look at the data.

Plume Labs has been a leader in the movement to track air pollution more closely. Their latest datasets even show details down to the street level, resulting in amazing visualizations of how air pollution changes over time. You’ve probably heard how pandemic lockdown orders have reduced air pollution. You might not realize how much this depends on where you live. Take these two maps of NO2 levels in Paris and New York. Left of the line is pre-lockdown, right of it is post-lockdown.

NO2 levels in Paris before and after lockdown. Interactive Map from Plume Labs
NO2 levels in New York before and after lockdown. Interactive map from Plume Labs

Car and truck exhaust is a major source of NO2. Lockdown has reduced traffic in both cities, so why has New York seen only a minor change in NO2 levels? It’s complicated, as Forbes recently reported. Possible factors for the differences range from city planning and the number of diesel cars to levels of agricultural activity in surrounding regions.

This may sound complicated, but it points to a simple truth. Air pollution is local. Local government, businesses, and even individuals can have a significant impact on local air pollution. Whereas global climate change often feels distant and out of our control, air pollution is firmly within our sphere of influence.

Many businesses will have other priorities tomorrow on Earth Day. Rightfully so. But after this crisis is over, let’s hope that we all remember that local air pollution is a problem that we can both locally measure and locally solve.