As the world weathers COVID-19, reduced emissions may have made this Earth Week the most effective ever
What a difference two months make.
As policymakers, economists and health professionals struggle over the length of the COVID-19 shutdown, it is time for the rest of us to recognize that our lockdown has given Mother Earth an unexpected respite from pollution worldwide. There are fewer cars on the road, airplanes in the sky and factories everywhere have been shuttered. Who would have thought that this catastrophe would produce the kind of shift that experts say amounts to the largest experiment ever in reducing global carbon emissions?
NASA reported recently that the Northeastern United States, along the I-95 corridor from Washington D.C., to Boston, is already experiencing a 30% decrease in air pollution. Others have shown that nitrogen dioxide levels have dropped by a significant percentage in eastern and central China, an area well-known for polluted cities. The same has occurred in Italy’s industrial north and many other regions of the world since the beginning of the global lockdown.
US air travel in the U.S. in mid-April this year was less than 1% of the traffic around Earth Day last year.
Meanwhile, Researchers at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology are already seeing changes in avian behavior. Birds appear to be tweeting louder and switching up their songs to fill the noise void created by the dramatic drop in human activity. To these data points, many more will be added from all corners of the natural world. Perhaps we should allow for, if not prepare, for the natural new normal? From casual birdwatchers to cops, we all now have an opportunity to imagine life in a cleaner, clearer – and less toxic – world.
Will we take that message to policymakers, to the World’s leaders, and push them to absorb the examples this new normal brings? Will they recognize that this “lockdown” has opened a window onto the sort of world we could nurture? Will they consider the benefits of the lockdown – this extraordinary global experiment – even as they work to unwind it? Nobody imagined all we have experienced together during these past two months. We now know a lot more about our collective impact on the planet than we did on New Year’s day 2020. This new evidence ought to compel us to re-evaluate the current state of all environmental policy, starting with our disengagement from the Paris Treaty on climate change. We need to recognize our leadership role promptly – something the next president could easily do in time for Earth Day ‘21.
If nothing else, we ought to transform the celebration of Earth Day from one of action into a week of inaction. Let’s lockdown worldwide one week every year, to recall the enormous lessons of the last two months.