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Climate Action Can Help to Fight Pandemics

Improving air quality by expanding renewable energy, increasing energy efficiency, and building innovative transportation systems has never been more important. These measures will save lives, protect communities against risks from COVID-19 and future pandemics, and help to ensure a livable climate for future generations.

BOSTON – The COVID-19 crisis has brought economies around the world to a standstill. Huge swaths of manufacturing have been idled, and sectors such as aviation and tourism are largely shuttered. Amid all the economic ruin, some have pointed to a supposed silver lining: cleaner air. But while it is true that today’s lower air pollution will temporarily spare some people’s health, it is also true that winds are much calmer in the eye of a hurricane.

Last year, roughly six million people worldwide died as a consequence of air pollution produced from burning fossil fuels. Such pollution will likely lead to nearly as many deaths in 2020, despite the cleaner air resulting from COVID-19 lockdowns. Air pollution from burning fossil fuels causes heart attacks, strokes, lung cancer, and diabetes. Children who breathe contaminated air are more likely to suffer from asthma. And polluted air can also harm pregnant women, resulting in premature or underweight babies.

But we can reduce this growing toll on our health. As our economies kick back into gear after the threat from COVID-19 passes, we should implement climate solutions that will not only prevent the harms caused by air pollution, but also might just forestall the next pandemic.

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