Yesterday was Earth Day, a global initiative founded in 1970 as a day of education about environmental issues. This year marks its 50th anniversary but it isn’t just a special year in that sense. In the face of the coronavirus pandemic, Earth Day 2020 is an eye-opener for us all. It offers a glimpse of a greener alternative reality.
From less air pollution to more sightings of wildlife, lockdown across the world is having a significant environmental impact. Here are a few things we’ve seen over the last few months. There are also some tips on how you can help the environment from your front room.
First China, which saw its greenhouse gas emissions fall 25 per cent, then Italy, now the UK. Countries all around the globe are recording lower carbon emissions due to the lack of human movement. In fact, experts say that there may be the largest drop in global emissions seen in over 70 years.
As the smog clears, people in certain areas of India are seeing the Himalayas for the first time in 30 years. The famous, and usually highly-trafficked, Venice canals have been visibly clearer during the pandemic, with fish and even crabs and jellyfish spotted in the water.
Empty streets and quieter roads have liberated wildlife. Wild boar roam the streets of Barcelona and Welsh goats, normally grazing in the mountains, have been roaming around towns. Moreover, in Canada, killer whales are swimming off Vancouver’s fjord shoreline for the first time in years.
Given that the pandemic originated from a wildlife market in China, the outbreak could also have an impact on wild animal hunting and trafficking. There are growing calls for countries to ban these types of markets to avoid future pandemics.
For experts, this period has shone a light on a world without fossil fuels. There is hope that we’ll emerge from this pandemic healthier, cleaner and more conscious of our environmental impact. Environmental activists, including Greta Thunberg, have called for governments around the world to tackle both coronavirus and climate change together.
We’re already seeing countries and their citizens learning from this period. They’re implementing new initiatives off the back of the pandemic. This week, Milan announced ambitious plans to turn some roads into cycling and walking lanes. This is a bid to keep car use low following the Covid-19 outbreak, which has seen traffic congestion has dropped by up to 75%.
However, these radical changes to our daily life aren’t going to be permanent. History, in the form of World War 2, has told us that there’s often a significant rebound in pollution as countries try to boost their economies after a crisis. We’re already seeing this as China slowly loosens its lockdown restrictions. Its coal consumption is already returning to normal.
What’s more, these lower emissions are still less than is required over the next ten years to avoid the damage of climate change. Many are also saying that this period shouldn’t be seen as an environmental “silver lining”. This is because a sustainable reduction in pollution mus have a less detrimental effect on society.
But there is hope that, as we return to some kind of normality, policymakers, governments and citizens alike will learn from this time. They will come up with new ways to combat climate change. Only time will tell.
If you’re feeling inspired, here are just a few ways how you can help the environment during Covid-19 and beyond: