As we approach Earth Day 2020, it’s worth taking a moment to think about how this Earth Day will be different. Normally, this holiday comes with protests about overuse of fossil fuels and demands to take fewer flights, but that’s hardly necessary this year. Quarantines and self-isolation around the world have kept people in their own homes, dramatically slashing the use of fossil fuels in transportation, which accounts for 23 percent of emissions worldwide. All across the globe, air is cleaner and water is clearer. But will it last? And what will the legacy of this shutdown be for the environment?
Environmental Changes We Can See
The world’s economy being shut down for nearly a month has had an undeniable effect on air pollution. One researcher speculates that the crisis has reduced smog in China so dramatically that it may actually have saved more lives than it claimed. As industry shuts down in Italy’s industrial north, graphics of nitrogen emissions show pollution melting away. And we’ve all seen photos circulating online from around the world, showing normally smoke-filled city air clearing overnight (although some of those are misleading). Even global warming has slowed down, albeit very slightly, with ice caps losing less ice than researchers had anticipated.
How Long Will These Changes Last?
Unless this moment inspires us to change our behavior in the long term, it’s not likely that this brief respite will help the environment much. The changes we’ve seen are all surface-level, and will reverse if our routines return to normal. The accumulation of CO2 that already exists in the atmosphere is keeping the Greenhouse Effect functional. And the months to come will come with new environmental challenges, like the tremendous amount of medical waste that has yet to be disposed of.
Protecting our Planet for the Future
This Earth Day, we must remain vigilant. It’s true that the short-term gains which imposed isolation has granted the environment are wonderful to see. But we cannot let ourselves be lulled by the complacent message that this crisis is allowing the Earth to heal. We still need to care for the environment, but let us all take this time as a learning opportunity. Even seemingly small changes to our personal behaviors can end up making a big difference. Actions such as reducing paper waste, recycling, and utilizing re-usable beverage containers are simple changes you can make in your every day life.
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