This article originally appeared on VICE Australia.
Sydney is a weird place at the moment. The city can feel like it's Boxing Day morning at any time of the week. There’s traffic but it runs at a dribble. There are people, but they’re mainly police and street cleaners. There’s still lots of pigeons, but they've got less to eat. And the sky is big and clear.
“All you could hear was pedestrian crossings and crows with a distant hum of traffic,” reported Sean Foster, who is the photographer behind these photos. “I went out on Sunday morning, between 8 and 10 a.m., and every couple of blocks you'd come across one of the hotels being used to quarantine people, with police standing around the entrances. I got some shots of people looking out their windows at the Sofitel Wentworth.”
It’s a scene that’s been repeated through the nation’s cities. On March 30 the federal government mandated stage three lockdown, which shuttered the last of the cinemas, restaurants, and sports venues. But as the streets became quiet, Australia’s economy was thrown into chaos. Some 700,000 people lost their jobs in the week after the lockdown, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. And now the official projection from the Grattan Institute is that as many as 3.4 million will be jobless by the time this is over.
The upside to this—and one we want to highlight given today is Earth Day—is that a decrease in economic activity has heralded a drop in air pollution across Australia, as well as around the world.
From a combination of satellite images and air quality stations, European researchers have observed dramatic reductions in nitrogen dioxide (NO2)—the tell-tale byproduct of burning fossil fuels—in many of the world’s most industrialized cities. In March and April, Milan and Rome saw NO2 emissions reductions of around 45 percent from the 2019 average, while Paris enjoyed a dramatic drop of 54 percent.
Australian numbers haven’t yet been published, but you can use this tool to see how concentrations of NO2 over our cities have similarly lifted.
Meanwhile, Sydney’s CBD has become a good place for a quiet stroll with lots of fresh air. Or a good place to just stay inside and scroll through these photos. And that's probably the safer option.
All photos by Sean Foster