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 being heralded as an eye opener for us all, offering a glimpse of a greener alternative reality.
From less air pollution and plummeting demand for oil to more sightings of wildlife, lockdown across the world is having a significant impact on the environment. Here are a few things we’ve seen over the last few months and tips on how you can help the environment – even if you can’t go out.
Cleaner air and water
First China, which saw its emission of greenhouse gases fall by up to 25 percent, then Italy, now the UK. Countries all around the globe are seeing reduced carbon emissions due to lack of human movement. In fact, experts say that there may be the largest drop in global emissions seen in over 70 years.
People in certain areas of India are seeing the Himalayan mountain range, hidden for over 30 years by smog, for the first time. The famous, and usually highly-trafficked, Venice canals have been visibly cleaner and clearer during the pandemic, with fish and even crabs and jellyfish spotted in the water.
Wildlife elsewhere have also been liberated by empty streets and quieter roads. A wild boar was spotted in central Barcelona in March, meanwhile in Wales goats – which usually reside in the mountains – were seen around town, and in Canada, killer whales were spotted off Vancouver’s fjord shoreline for the first time in years.
Given that the pandemic is thought to have originated from a wild animal market in China, the outbreak could also have an impact on the hunting and trafficking of wild animals moving forward. There are growing calls for countries to ban these types of markets to avoid future pandemics.
Life after lockdown
For experts, this period has shone a light on a world without fossil fuels and there is hope that we’ll emerge from this pandemic a healthier, cleaner world 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 and implementing new initiatives off the back of the pandemic. This week, Milan announced ambitious plans to turn some roads into cycling and walking lanes in a bid to keep car use low following the Covid-19 outbreak, in which where traffic congestion has dropped by up to 75%.
However, these radical changes to our daily life aren’t going to be permanent and history, in the form of World War 2, has told us that there’s often a significant rebound in pollution as countries try to ramp up their economies again after a crisis. We’re already seeing this as China slowly loosens its lockdown restrictions and its coal consumption returns to normal.
What’s more, the expected cut in emissions is still less than what experts say is needed in the next 10 years to avoid devastating impacts from climate change. Many are also calling out that this period shouldn’t be seen as an environmental “silver lining”, because for a sustainable reduction in pollution there needs to be a much less detrimental effect on society as is currently happening.
But there is hope that, as we return to some kind of normality following the pandemic, policymakers, governments and citizens alike will learn from this time and 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: