This Earth Day 2020, we recognize how our environment has seen recent improvements.
While we’ve stayed inside, our environment has made strides.
If there’s one silver lining about the pandemic thus far, it’s that we’ve reduced our carbon footprint around the globe due to less human activity while sheltering in place. Right in time for Earth Day, our population has collectively taken a step back from human activities that put constant stress on the earth, such as using natural resources and emitting greenhouse gases from cars and public transportation.
Over the years, overpopulation and overstimulation of the earth’s resources have contributed to environmental issues across the board. These issues include wasteful habits like throwing away leftovers, overusing electricity and heat, and using gas-guzzling vehicles. Our way of life has taken a toll on our ecosystems, with densely populated cities and overworked factories leading to high pollution and high carbon dioxide emission levels.
This lockdown on nonessential human activity has positively impacted our environment on a global scale – slowing climate change, lowering emissions of greenhouse gases, reducing fossil fuel emissions, and many other benefits.
Here are some of the areas that have seen environmental improvements in the wake of the lockdown:
1) Air pollution levels have gone down, contributing to environmental as well as personal health.
Factories and businesses have temporarily closed their doors, consequently putting a halt to their carbon emissions. The improvements are clear as day, with blue skies and fresh air present over notoriously smoggy cities like Los Angeles, New York City, and Beijing. The results have been so drastic, they can be seen from space: NASA’s satellites have reported a 30% drop in air pollution over the Northeast United States.
The lockdown has resulted in less cars, buses, and airplanes on the roads and airways, lending to a decrease in air pollution and nitrogen dioxide levels. Industrial activity and vehicular traffic accounts for up to 50% of greenhouse gas emissions. These pollutants are large contributors to global warming and climate change. As we take a break from unnecessary travel, we are giving the earth’s ozone layer a chance to recover.
A new study has also determined a link between Covid-19 deaths and areas where there is long-term exposure to air pollution. The study found that PM 2.5, a type of dust particle that comes from power plants, motor vehicles, and forest fires, contributed to a 15% increase in deaths from the virus.
The CDC has stressed that people with chronic conditions, including asthma, pose a higher risk of falling critically ill from Covid-19. Cleaner and more breathable air can help those who suffer from chronic respiratory conditions as well as the general population.
2) As the earth quiets down, seismic activity is more easily picked up.
Seismologists – scientists who study earthquakes and the spread of energy waves – are reaping the benefits from a quieter earth, as their instruments are beginning to pick up higher-quality seismic readings. This means they are able to gather more accurate and updated information on our earth’s internal structure and movement.
Typically, regular human activity causes vibrations that distort seismic readings. With the current climate, though, this has been less of an obstacle. Surface-level instruments are now picking up the same quality seismic readings as those buried 100 meters below the earth’s surface.
What kind of information are seismologists uncovering? The uninterrupted seismic readings have given professionals the opportunity to better detect earthquakes, understand natural river movement, and even study the impact of individual cars on the roadways. According to Stanford seismologist Siyuan Yuan, “studying traffic at such a fine scale could help officials manage the movement of people in future crises.”
3) Natural water sources and underwater species are having a moment to thrive.
From the oceans to the rivers, natural water sources are clearer than ever! The Venice Canals, typically polluted and murky, are running clear. This is a direct result of a halt on motorboat traffic pollution.
Our oceans are known to absorb more than a quarter of fossil fuel emissions that humans put into the air, causing the water to become acidic and threatening underwater life. These underwater habitats are ecologically disrupted, as the acidity lowers the availability of carbonate, a substance used by tens of thousands of marine species to form shells and skeletons.
A halt on excess gas emissions means we are preserving underwater species as well as taking steps against climate change and rising sea levels. Cleaner water protects the temperature of our seawater from rising, which prevents global warming and seawater expansion.
4) By staying together at home, we are containing energy consumption on a larger scale.
As commercial business and industrial activity has come to a standstill, a majority of people have shifted toward using energy resources in their homes.
According to the Energy Information Administration, the United States’ usual energy use is broken down into four sectors:
- Industrial (32%)
- Transportation (29%)
- Commercial (18%)
- Residential (20%)
Residential energy consumption has risen by an estimated 6%–8% due to how much more time we’re currently spending in our homes, but the decrease in commercial energy usage by almost 30% offsets this increase and is indicative of reduced energy consumption overall. By staying home, we’re not only being conscious of our health but of our environment as well. A little sustainability goes a long way.
Continuing to facilitate positive change well into the future.
Over the past month, we’ve felt and experienced a great deal of loss that cannot be compensated nor justified by environmental improvements. However, these improvements can serve as inspiration to help us reflect on the way that we live and treat our earth every day and how we want to treat our earth moving forward.
As we honor Earth Day 2020, we recognize the positive effects of cleaner air, clearer oceans, and an ease on the use of our natural resources. This catastrophic event has shown us that our changed behaviors can have a crucial impact on not only our personal health but also the preservation of earth and everything it offers us. It is our responsibility to learn how to sustain and protect the natural beauty and resources that we’ve come to rely on.