Monday, April 20, 2020

Earth Day 2020: Moving Into a More Sustainable Future Post COVID-19

Posted By on Mon, Apr 20, 2020 at 4:05 PM

click to enlarge Ironwood National Monument - JOHN FOULKROD
  • John Foulkrod
  • Ironwood National Monument
April 22 has been known for the past 50 years as Earth Day. There are a lot of ways to celebrate the Earth, even though at the moment most of us are quarantined inside our homes. But something peculiar has been happening while we all hunker down.

If there has been any type of silver lining in the short term during this pandemic, it's this one: the Earth keeps spinning and moves on with or without us.

Worldwide we have seen countless events that show the power of nature.

Nitrogen dioxide levels have decreased significantly over some areas of the world already. In India, the Himalayas can be seen again, and for some for the first time. South Africa is seeing lions nap on the side of the road now that there aren't cars on them. In Italy, the lack of boats disturbing the sediment has resulted in the fish being visible in the canals.

Do be wary, though, of some similar stories that sound "too good to be true." The picture above has some claiming the pollution in the water just went away after a few days, which is pretty impossible. Others have a wild variety of stories of nature triumphing over man, with most of them being hugely embellished, it not outright fibs.

While a comeback from the environment sounds like great, positive news, it's a dual-edged blade. There's already research going into the environmental impacts of COVID-19 in the short and long term, but unless we change our way of life, these are not events that will continue on into the future.

The fact is that more than 30% of the world is under some sort of quarantine or lockdown—for the moment. As the world and our own nation begin to reopen, we will once again have factories in production, planes flying through the air, and cars traversing our roads. The world economy is already suffering, and there are many that want to jumpstart it tomorrow. This, unfortunately, will put us right back where we were before, ecologically speaking.

Besides the former concerns about our environment as a whole and climate change, in particular, there are new concerns regarding pollution and the COVID-19 strain itself.

A new study that has come out from Aarhus University in Denmark and the University of Siena in Italy has found a clear link between COVID-19 and death rates—specifically in Italy—though the air quality is obviously not the cause nor the only thing that can be attributed to higher risks and death. And, it's not only COVID-19, though that's at the forefront of everybody's mind. Previous studies have found similar results.

The problem, then, is not really IF we need to change the way we live and do business, but HOW we go about doing so. Regardless of whether or not you see climate change as a threat, COVID-19 will not allow us to go back to "normal." That normal is gone, just as the pre-Katrina, pre-9/11, and pre-Pearl Harbor normal are left in the past. The world is forever changed, and we need to change along with it.

At the same time, it isn't beneficial to try to continue our way of life in quarantine, either. Besides the slight improvement to our environment, it has been detrimental to the world's economy, mental health, socialization, and any other unseen issues. People need other people in general, whether that's for work, communication or play. We can't stay at home forever, it's just not in our nature.

So, what do we do now? That's the question we will have to address sooner rather than later.

Loyola University Chicago Institute of Environmental Sustainability has a few things to remember on its website:

We are seeing an environmental impact from the spread of this virus. Air travel has been vastly reduced. Industries have closed and air quality in these areas has benefitted. At the same time work to address climate, from research to installing clean energy has been negatively impacted. So what should we learn about climate change in understanding this public health emergency?

  1. Earlier action leads to less impact and less cost. Communities that take aggressive action on Coronavirus can “flatten the curve” saving lives and allowing more capacity to tend to those that get sick. This is exactly like climate change, in that if we would have addressed our emissions when we knew of the problem this would not only have reduced the impacts, it would have given us more options in the solutions available to address a changing climate. This chart shows the impacts of delaying action in meeting the 2 degree Celsius target in the Paris Accord, and is a stark reminder of the challenge facing us to avert major climate catastrophe.
  2. A disregard for science leads to poor outcomes. This article in Science is a stark call for decision-makers that listen to scientists on managing infectious disease and include it in their policy-making and public communication. This has been a long-time criticism of inaction on climate change. The science of climate change has been settled for some time and yet policy-makers have been influenced by the politicization and efforts by entrenched entities.
  3. Human psychology has a difficult time dealing with uncertain risk. The challenges and solutions are clearly understood and yet the actions can seem disconnected and far off. Find ways to simplify the issue of climate change and take actions that you can feel confident are making a positive impact. This article has 17 straightforward questions and answers on climate change that can help you get to work. Take control of your understanding of the issue and engage those around you to decrease doubt and increase action.
As far as something you can do today, EarthDay.org has a list of things you can do for the betterment of the Earth during the pandemic.

And for the future? Stay informed and share what you know. We are all in this together, both through this pandemic and on our planet.

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