NOTE: This was originally published in Tucson Weekly and can be found here.
April 22 has been known for the past 50 years as Earth Day. There are a lot of ways to celebrate the Earth, even though at the moment most of us are quarantined inside our homes. But something peculiar has been happening while we all hunker down.
If there has been any type of silver lining in the short term during this pandemic, it’s this one: the Earth keeps spinning and moves on with or without us.
Worldwide we have seen countless events that show the power of nature.
Nitrogen dioxide levels have decreased significantly over some areas of the world already. In India, the Himalayas can be seen again, and for some for the first time. South Africa is seeing lions nap on the side of the road now that there aren’t cars on them. In Italy, the lack of boats disturbing the sediment has resulted in the fish being visible in the canals.
Do be wary, though, of some similar stories that sound “too good to be true.” The picture above has some claiming the pollution in the water just went away after a few days, which is pretty impossible. Others have a wild variety of stories of nature triumphing over man, with most of them being hugely embellished, it not outright fibs.
While a comeback from the environment sounds like great, positive news, it’s a dual-edged blade. There’s already research going into the environmental impacts of COVID-19 in the short and long term, but unless we change our way of life, these are not events that will continue on into the future.
The fact is that more than 30% of the world is under some sort of quarantine or lockdown—for the moment. As the world and our own nation begin to reopen, we will once again have factories in production, planes flying through the air, and cars traversing our roads. The world economy is already suffering, and there are many that want to jumpstart it tomorrow. This, unfortunately, will put us right back where we were before, ecologically speaking.
Besides the former concerns about our environment as a whole and climate change, in particular, there are new concerns regarding pollution and the COVID-19 strain itself.
A new study that has come out from Aarhus University in Denmark and the University of Siena in Italy has found a clear link between COVID-19 and death rates—specifically in Italy—though the air quality is obviously not the cause nor the only thing that can be attributed to higher risks and death. And, it’s not only COVID-19, though that’s at the forefront of everybody’s mind. Previous studies have found similar results.
The problem, then, is not really IF we need to change the way we live and do business, but HOW we go about doing so. Regardless of whether or not you see climate change as a threat, COVID-19 will not allow us to go back to “normal.” That normal is gone, just as the pre-Katrina, pre-9/11, and pre-Pearl Harbor normal are left in the past. The world is forever changed, and we need to change along with it.