Here, on the third rock from the sun, we celebrated a major milestone this week: the 50th anniversary of Earth Day.
One might say it's ironic that instead of globally honouring, respecting and nurturing Mother Earth this week, our collective attention was hyper-focused on mitigating the COVID-19 pandemic. Is the virus Mother Earth’s attempt at reminding humanity that our culture of consumption is wreaking havoc on nature's life balance? Although I would never underestimate the power of a spinning oblate spheroid that gives birth to spirits and souls, even if Gaia did not manifest this rogue virus, it's an unprecedented wake-up call for humankind to reflect and reinvent how we can sustainably live on the planet which cradles us.
*Image courtesy of Smithsonian Magazine
The History Of Earth Day
The first 'Earth Day' in 1970 was the brainchild of a senator from Wisconsin, Senator Gaylord Nelson. A conservationist and environmentalist, he was alarmed at the destructive impact many of our products and behaviours were having on the planet. Senator Nelson - who rejected the popular capitalist belief that economic development should take precedence over environmental protection - hoped to harness the student protest movement at the end of the 1960s to foster change. He planned the original Earth Day for April 22nd, 1970 - just after spring break and right before exams - to create as much focus and momentum for the movement.
In the United States, the first Earth Day was recognized by nearly 10 per cent of the population. Ever since, it has grown in awareness as citizens around the world protest global industrialization, our reliance on fossil fuels, the damage we inflict on the environment, and our hedonistic culture of consumption. Earth Day now unites hundreds of millions of people annually to pause and reflect on humankind's impact on the planet. By 2010, there were 75,000 global partners in 192 countries participating. Today, Earth Day is considered the largest secular observance in the world.
Here is a good synopsis of Earth Day’s history.
The Planet And COVID-19
Since the virus was first discovered in Wuhan, China late last year, within a few months it spread to 110 countries. At the time of this writing, Worldometer lists the number of Coronavirus Cases as 2,715,782 with a total of190,465 deaths and about 745,100 recoveries. It's worth noting that these statistics cannot be considered reliable, as it has come to light that many countries have collected and recorded their data inconsistently or incorrectly. Apparently the death toll is predicted to be significantly higher.
As we know, the majority of governments responded to this health crisis by closing their borders, shutting down most of their economies (except for those services deemed essential), and by implementing social-distancing measures and/or self-isolation procedures for the population at large to both minimize the spread of infection and mitigate the risks of overwhelming the health care systems. Since these measures were introduced in Toronto on March 13th, residents have been discouraged from leaving their homes unless it's of absolute necessity in an effort to 'flatten the curve of infection'. Most of the global population is currently navigating the pandemic under similar circumstances, to varying degrees of success.
Interestingly, the unexpected byproduct of having the vast majority of the world's population sequestered in their homes has been the marked reduction in air, light and noise pollution. Wildlife is emerging from their natural habitats and roaming unrestricted throughout the city landscape, as human and vehicular traffic has hugely diminished. For example, a report recently suggested that since lockdown measures were implemented driving in Toronto has dropped 73%.
People are able to view the world in which they live more clearly, literally. For example, "Residents in the northern Indian state of Punjab are reacting with awe at the sight of the Himalayan mountain range, which is now visible from more than 100 miles away due to the reduction in air pollution caused by the country's coronavirus lockdown".
Check out these photos of smog, before and after the lockdown, and here's an engaging video from the Globe and Mail called "Earth Day In Lockdown: A Chance To Reimagine The Future".
It’s important to note that the reduction in pollutions is not only good for the planet; it also benefits our own health as well. Click here to read "Air Quality Has Improved During The COVID-19 Pandemic And May Help People Live Longer. These Satellite Images Show More".
While cleaner air, less artificial light, and quieter days can be viewed as a silver lining to this pandemic, there's a strong possibility this will only be temporary. Yes, Mother Earth and her residents are reaping the benefits right now, but we also need to recognize they're the result of a coordinated lockdown response which required shuttering multiple sectors of the global economy. Numerous industries are currently at a standstill, suggesting that the capitalist machines we operate to make money are the culprits behind much of the damage we are inflicting on the planet.
Does this imply we need to suffer economic carnage in order to help rebalance the planet?
Which Came First? The Health Crisis Or The Environmental Crisis?
This article "Pandemic Side-Effects Offer Glimpse Of Alternative Future On Earth Day 2020" suggests that the current environmental benefits generated from the COVID-19 lockdown may have occurred on their own, in a gentler, more gradual fashion had we adopted and enforced the more stringent practices originally proposed at the very first Earth Day. The article also suggests that, if nothing else, the reduction in air, light and noise pollution which has resulted as a byproduct of the pandemic, is allowing us to witness how better our environment would be if we collectively chose a greener path moving forward.
What we are also witnessing - in a manner we've never experienced - is what happens when you turn off the engines of our exchange economy. When you combine the sheer magnitude and the abrupt change that has occurred from 'everyday normalcy' to 'pandemic lockdown', it's essentially overwhelming to process without some level of uncertainty and discomfort. IBIS World's collection of fast facts are research analysts who have outlined how the spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus) is currently tanking 15 major economic sectors in Australia, Canada, Germany, New Zealand, the UK and the US. Although the impact on the global economy is dire, in the context of environmental change this demonstrates what is possible if we collectively change our behaviours - corporately and privately - to reduce emissions and address climate change. Clearly though, we need to focus on human health, environmental health, and economic health in order to care for our species.
Really, this comes back to the impetus behind the original Earth Day: economic prosperity and environmental harmony are not mutually exclusive. However, not only are we tasked with charting a new course forward, but we need to repair the damage we've already done in order to rectify our plight. Inevitably the final financial tally we'll be reconciling once we add up the massive financial losses companies and countries are incurring by freezing their economies in lockdown, in addition to the extraordinary costs indebted nation-states will spend to bail out corporations and support broke citizens in our efforts to manage and resolve this pandemic will be a shocking unprecedented sum. And what will really gobsmack me, is that I suspect forensic accountants will realize the human race could have invested far lesser sums a decade ago to address resolving climate change, repairing environmental damage, and investing in pandemic preparation. Human civilization is spending all its money on making repairs instead of investing in preventative medicine. It's heart-breaking.
To manifest a greener path will require a fundamental shift by all cultures and societies, much in the same way as we implemented the 'global pandemic lockdown'. Populations, for the most part, responded to lockdown orders quickly out of fear for their health and safety, and their co-operation has yielded positive results. What if the same fears about the health of the planet could be at the forefront of focus moving forward?
Truthfully though, it is possible to have planet-friendly prosperity. It’s a matter of strategy, intelligence, and commitment. The real question is whether or not we will, as global citizens, jump on the opportunity to replace lost jobs (and lost time under lockdown) with renewable, green-focused jobs.
No question. The urgency persists - as does this rare opportunity to effect change. Click here to read "As Earth Day Turns 50, COVID-19 Offers Valuable Warning" - and - "Greta Thunberg, Pope Francis Call For Global Action On Earth Day" which calls on us to recognize that an environmental emergency is equally in play on the planet as the health emergency of COVID-19.
The Path Forward
Although recent events might suggest otherwise, we each understand that effective change comes when everyone is committed to taking small steps. Certainly, as we're witnessing with the global lockdown, drastic steps yield big results, but these actions - freezing our economies & halting most travel are not sustainable for the long term.
To move towards sustainability, there must be a framework in place from policymakers, as well as a shift in mindset for individuals to adopt change in their daily habits when the choices are theirs to make. This United Nations article "First Person: COVID-19 Is Not A Silver Lining For The Climate, Says UN Environment Chief" provides insights into what this framework must look like to ensure a positive momentum for the planet: “ an important pillar in our post-COVID-19 recovery plan must be to arrive at an ambitious, measurable and inclusive framework, because keeping nature rich, diverse and flourishing is part and parcel of our life’s support system.”
The article continues: “And as the engines of growth begin to rev up again, we need to see how prudent management of nature can be part of this “different economy” that must emerge, one where finance and actions fuel green jobs, green growth and a different way of life, because the health of people and the health of the planet are one and the same, and both can thrive in equal measure."
This article "How Canada Can Build An Environmentally Sustainable Future After The COVID-19 Crisis" has a number of practical suggestions on how policy and practice can both help the economy and the environment moving forward, including support to retrofit commercial buildings, switching to greener transportation, protecting our freshwater Great Lakes, and outlawing products and goods which are toxic for the environment (such as hair dyes, cleaning solutions, and pharmaceuticals).
For homeowners specifically, this article suggests that policies be introduced that reward those who actively embrace energy efficiency, sustainable practices, and green materials.
Our Healthy Home Series
At Urbaneer.com, my team and I have long explored the relationship between shelter and well-being in our Healthy Home series, both as it pertains to the physical, mental and emotional health of its occupants, as well as the health and well-being of Mother Earth.
Here are some of our past posts:
We Promote Sustainable Living
The Urbaneer team are fans of any opportunity that makes our dwellings more environmentally-friendly, including properties built using sustainable materials, energy-efficient systems, and eco-friendly services. After all, green homes are not only better for the planet, but they tend to be more economical to operate, so they're also better for your pocketbook. As such, investing in being green is both intelligent and responsible.
Whether it's making simple changes like installing LED lightbulbs, energy-efficient appliances, or a Nest Thermostat, or undertaking a comprehensive renovation with the commitment to reduce construction waste, reuse building materials, and select sustainable materials, every action to live green is an improvement.
Here are some posts which offer more insights:
Clearly, now that we’ve seen how our choices in our daily lives can help the planet for the better, might you consider incorporating some sustainable housing choices? It might be as simple as installing a low-flow showerhead or motion-sensor faucets. Maybe you’ve spent some time during your lockdown browsing design media for your next home renovation project. How about including materials made from renewable resources, like bamboo - or using low-emission paint?
Making a green shift now promotes the most lasting change!
On COVID-19 And Toronto Real Estate
Here are our posts sharing how COVID-19 is impacting Torontonians with real estate,
May my team and I be your realtors of choice?
With a multi-disciplinary education in housing - including urban history, urban planning, and urban residential design - plus over 25 years experience helping Buyers and Sellers navigate the Toronto real estate market, we offer excellence, insight, and a commitment to gently guide you, and those you love, without pressure or hassle.
Thanks for reading!
-The Urbaneer Team
Steven Fudge, Sales Representative
& The Innovative Urbaneer Team
Bosley Real Estate Ltd., Brokerage - (416) 322-8000
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