Today we celebrate Earth Day. For those who don’t know, Earth Day is an annual event celebrated in more than 193 countries on April 22nd that aims to demonstrate support for environmental protection. And this year, 2020, is Earth Day’s 50th anniversary.
Due to social distancing restrictions in place around the world to fight the spread of coronavirus, the millions of people who were expected to fill parks, stadiums, universities and streets today to mark the annual day devoted to environmental protection won’t be able to celebrate together.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate our beautiful planet, quite the opposite. Precisely because we are forced inside, with more time on our hands, that we should use these moments to reflect and educate ourselves on the matter and think more proactively about how each one of us can impact the environment.
Where are we in the fight against the climate crisis
It’s not a secret: our planet is dying and it’s our fault.
We may be a little less aware of the fact that the world outside our window is already a changed one. Since the industrial revolution – midway between the 18 and 19 century – global temperatures have risen by about 1°C, which has had an impact at even the largest scales. Since then, the greenhouse gases we’ve been pumping into the atmosphere are already changing Earth’s weather, ecosystems and even its tilt.
We see examples of that everyday: glaciers have shrunk, plant and animal habitats have been altered and ice on rivers and lakes is breaking up earlier. Does this sound a bit too generic? What about the fact that scientists declared that, in the UK, spring is beginning about two weeks earlier on average than it did half a century ago, and autumn a week later? What about the fact that in the seas, many animals have migrated hundreds of kilometres towards the poles and it is also much harder for terrestrial wildlife to move on land? A warming Earth disturbs weather, people, animals and much more.
We are neither aware of the that we already livening in a new normal, nor are we aware of the worst that can happen. But we are aware of the fact that we’re facing the biggest environmental challenge our species has ever seen – even though sometimes we don’t precisely know what it means.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change explained it simply: “Continued emission of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems. Limiting climate change would require substantial and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions which, together with adaptation, can limit climate change risks”.
Coronavirus and climate change
The coronavirus pandemic is affecting every aspect of our lives. Not just because of the countless deaths all over the world, the economic recession we are about to face and the imposed quarantine at home.
The pandemic is also changing how we live and is subsequently having a profound impact on the environment. But one silver lining to the current global crisis as a result of COVID-19 is the improvement in air quality, with pollution levels dropping very fast.
The lockdown triggered by the pandemic, with almost a third of the world’s population living under home/some restriction, including the UK, Italy, Spain, France and most of the Western world, is having a huge impact on the planet. With people prevented from leaving their homes and most travel plans either cancelled or postponed, the significant decrease in the use of transport, including regular car journeys, commercial flights, cruises & public buses/trains, is giving the Earth a much-needed break. Moreover, the coronavirus has led to an astonishing shutdown of economic activity and therefore a drastic reduction in the use of fossil fuels.
So something strange is happening: all over the world pollution levels are dropping fast. In China, measures to contain the virus in February alone caused a drop in carbon emissions of an estimated 25 percent, which the Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air estimates to be around 200 million tons of carbon dioxide — more than half the annual emissions of Britain. A Financial Times analysis has demonstrated how aircraft emissions are down by almost a third compared to 2019. Satellite imagery from the European Space Agency shows how coronavirus is temporarily slashing air pollution levels around the world, while – for the first time – blue skies are seen in some of the most polluted cities on the planet.
What can we do from our homes
We are way off track in terms of dealing with climate change. We ask, we demand, politicians act fast in the battle against this crisis, but we must be part of this battle as well. Every little step counts. And if you think the problem will fix itself because we are staying home during quarantine, then think again.
There are a few simple and easy things we can do from the comfort of our houses to help win this fight. For example, if you haven’t done it already, programme your thermostat: by setting it to automatically change with the time and season you could reduce heating and cooling emissions by 15 percent. Then, if you can, switch to a greener provider. Experiment with climate-friendly recipes, so for example chose seasonal vegetables over others and, even if you’re a devoted carnivore, try to reduce meat consumption – according to the NYTimes, going vegetarian could reduce your food-related footprint by a third. Be better about recycling. Go plastic-free. Go paperless. And more than anything else, get educated. Use this downtime and celebrate Earth Day by catching up on the latest climate change news, on the books and documentaries out there. Education is an essential element for our global response.
Credit featured photo: Photo Boards on Unsplash