Many of us will have noticed differences in traffic noise and air pollution during the lockdown. Startling images have come from India where, for the first time in a generation, the Himalayas have been visible more than a hundred miles away. Something similar happened in the UK in 1921 when coal shortages during a miner’s strike led to newspaper reports of distant landmarks being visible as never before. In the UK we too have been able to look up at clearer blue skies, less impeded by air pollution and not crisscrossed by aircraft contrails. This helped Germany to break a solar power record.
In Beijing, air pollution controls for the 2014 Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting also brought a return to blue skies. The term “APEC blue” emerged in Chinese social media and was nominated as Beijing’s top environmental phrase for the year. Later it took on a tinge of sadness, to mean something wonderful, but brief. One woman posted about love on social media, “He’s not that into you – it’s just an APEC blue!”
Rather than let this time be forgotten, the United Nations and environmental campaigners are urging governments to “build back better, to invest in the future not the past”, to ensure that our global recovery has sustainable legacy.