What a wonderful world we live in…
What is Earth Day?
It’s Earth Day 2020 today! As we see our climate and environment under more a more pressure from human influence and action, Earth Day was created to highlight these issues, and form a movement of action against them, combating climate change and protecting our plant (1). Fifty years since Earth Day started, we now have different environmental challenges, some much larger, most notably global climate change, but this year, Earth Day is a little different …
Our Global Crisis.
COVID-19 is a pandemic, which has spread around the globe. In addition to loss of lives, the virus has disrupted our society and demobilised the global economy. COVID-19 has impacted every person on the planet, and in many aspects, our way of life. As COVID-19 has restricting our movements and social interactions, they have had an unexpected consequence on our environment. In no way has COVID 19 been a blessing, but there has been some light shed from it, and positive effects have been noticed around the globe from our reduce movement on the planet.
1) Wildlife Trade Ban – An issue very close to my heart, as described in my Predator Turn Prey blog post. There has been a lot speculation about the spread and origin of COVID-19. One theory is that it originated at a live animal and fish market in Wuhan, China. As a result, China introduced a permanent ban on wildlife trade and consumption. There are loopholes however, as the decision does not ban trade for fur, medicine or research which could result in increased illegal poaching and trade. It has, however, been a step forward, as actions such as these are not taken lightly. For the first time in history, these traditional unsubstantiated beliefs of what wildlife parts can supposedly do have not held power to the significant threat to human safety.
2) Greenhouse Gas Emissions – Before COVID-19, air pollution killed seven million people a year. A trend of reduced carbon emissions and nitrogen dioxide (of which high levels can cause respiratory problems) has been observed all over the globe. The European Environment Agency (EEA) has reported large decreases in air pollutant concentrations across the whole, Europe as seen in Italy for example.
In addition, COVID-19 has triggered a big drop in demand for fossil fuels, reduction by 5% would be the biggest drop in demand for industry in history (4). In China specifically, carbon emissions have fallen by 25% since January 2020 (2). That significant amount of reduced emissions have more positive effects, with ocean acidification and global temperatures. As this is such an unusual and worrying time for us all, seeing a positive amongst all the negatives is inspiring. This is not the way we want emissions to be lowered though. COVID-19 has taken lives, affected our health services, jobs and mental health. But, if anything, it has shown the difference that communities can make when they look out for each other – and that’s one lesson that could be invaluable dealing with climate change.
3) Noise Pollution – With our quieter presence, other forms of life have decided to make an appearance in response, or at least be heard. A huge reduction in ambient noise from traffic and aircraft during COVID-19 lockdown has meant birdsong is more audible than ever. Noise levels have fallen by up to 8 decibels since the start of the COVID-19 crisis. With bird singing more commonplace in our quiet isolation, providing solace, there have been studies that show birdsong has powerful healing effects which can improve mental health and benefit hospital patients (5).
There have been some wins, but there could also be some losses. Long distance travel has been reduced dramatically. Frequent flying forms a large part of the carbon footprint for people who do it regularly, so these emissions could bounce back and peak if we return to old habits. We’ve also created some new habits. As more of us isolate at home, there has been an increasing number of online purchase and takeaway deliveries. As a consequence fast fashion is thriving and disposal of single-use plastic packaging is ever increasing. Whether the environmental pros or cons of COVID-19 out weighs the other is up to us, and only time will tell.
It seems a power play of environmental justice is about to be had.
But has COVID-19 given Mother Nature a fighting chance?
This period of time is very small and minuscule in terms of the Earth’s history. These relaxed effects on Mother Nature will have little effect in the long term health of our environment, compared to our history. However, it has opened our eyes to what we are doing and I hope it has created an opening for change, a silver lining to an alternative future.
A global pandemic that is claiming people’s lives certainly shouldn’t be seen as a way of bringing about environmental change. Most of us are more aware of the biophysical consequences of climate change than we are of some of the social consequences of it. Food supply is one of the greater risks we have to consider. However, the evident effect that COVID-19 has had on Mother Nature, has in many ways shown us just how much we influence the air we breathe, pollute the waters we drink, and decimate our food supply affecting the natural world around us. This might have been break Mother Nature needed to show us just what we need to do, a push in the right direction.
This is, therefore, a chance for everyone to reflect and take notice of what we can do to reduce our environmental footprint. Really, everyday should be Earth Day.