Environment Perspective Top

Earth Day at 50: pandemic brings despair, but also hope

A glorious panorama of the UK’s fields and sky. (Tristan Simpson/YJI)

Boston, UK – In terms of what events most people anticipated for 2020, a vicious global pandemic was presumably not one of them. The virus has taken thousands of lives and pretty much put the entire planet on hold. Except it hasn’t.

Today, the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, we’re seeing some remarkable improvements in the environment, because of the pandemic.

Due to the lockdowns and measures enacted to prevent the spread of the virus, carbon and green house gas emissions have dropped considerably, particularly in nations with notoriously high air pollution. One of those is China, which saw a 25 percent drop in emissions at the start of the year, Martha Henriques reported in a March 27 article for the BBC.

New York City has also seen an enormous change in comparison to this time last year, seeing a 50 percent reduction in air pollution, Henriques reported. These statistics are just the beginning, and the effects are quite startling.

To name but a few, some marine life has returned to the Venice canals, usually thick with pollution. In an April 22 story, Time magazine reported spotting a jellyfish in the newly-clear waters of the canal. The Guardian reported this week that Thailand has seen the largest number of nests of the rare leatherback turtle in two decades due to the pandemic’s reduction in tourism. Goats have come down from the hills to line the streets in Wales.

A key factor in this is the reduction in travel due to the lockdowns across the face of the planet. Transportation has dropped significantly, and this alone contributes to 23 percent of the global emissions, Enriques reported. This includes airports closing their doors and a huge proportion of flights being cancelled, but also commuters no longer having to make their trip to work.

This is not to say that Covid-19 hasn’t been a disaster. It has near broken the world economy and took many lives too soon. But, if there is any silver lining at all, it has shown us how fragile our planet is, and how easily with less interference from humanity, it can be restored.

Since the first Earth Day 50 years ago, we’ve seen more viruses affect us than ever. The SARs virus, MERs, Ebola, Zika, have all crossed from animals to humans. As humanity expands its arms across the globe, chopping down the rainforests, feeding the ever growing population, and polluting the earth with more greenhouse gases to expand industrialisation, the threats to our future have also increased.

Some of the natural beauty in the UK. (Tristan Simpson/YJI)

In an interview with the Guardian newspaper, Aaron Bernstein from the Harvard School of Public Health in the US, said, “We’ve had Sars, Mers, Covid-19, HIV. We need to see what nature is trying to tell us here. We need to recognise that we’re playing with fire.”

“The separation of health and environmental policy is a dangerous delusion. Our health entirely depends on the climate and the other organisms we share the planet with.”

The health of humanity and the environment are not disparate, but actually rely on each other. In this case looking at covid-19, through the mass killing of animals in wet markets, we have made our environment unstable and unsafe, damaging the health of thousands of people across the planet.

As a community, we need to start considering plans to create a sustainable pathway. Nature is crying out for a future where we don’t destroy other animal’s habitats, but we live mutually, in a natural balance between all living organisms.

Again, what we have seen during the covid-19 pandemic is definitely not something that can continue. After lockdowns re-open, flights will also restart, and so will commuters to work. Not only this, but all business and industries will be starting up again, trying to get back on their feet.

What we need is a sustainable way to cope while also rebuilding after the virus. A way of doing this could be to have one or two days a week to work from home. This will mean less carbon emissions from cars and vehicles and, while it will still only be a small change, will be a dramatic step towards developments for the future and what avenues we can take.

Even smaller changes like eating fewer meals with meat in will help the environment. The deforestation in South America is primarily being performed to create more land for livestock. By eating fewer meals containing these animals means there will be less land needed to rear them.

There are simple steps we can all take, and the global pandemic has shown us how quickly we need to start taking them.

If we can draw anything from covid-19, we have shown what we can achieve together as a race, but also glimpses of what we can achieve together as a planet.

Tristan Simpson is a Junior Reporter with Youth Journalism International.

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