If the earth was flat, I might leap off it.
Here, on the third rock from the sun, we are celebrating the 51st 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 is hyper-focused on mitigating the COVID-19 pandemic, just as it was LAST year on the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. 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 percent 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 in 2019, within a few months it spread to 110 countries. At the time of this writing, Worldometer lists the number of Coronavirus Cases as 144,264,807 with a total of 3,066,213 deaths. 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 in March of 2020, many variations of this legislation have come into effect over the past year 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.
Let's take a look at a few examples of the ecological impact of a year of reduced human activity:
Due to movement restriction and a significant slowdown of social and economic activities, air quality has improved in many cities with a reduction in water pollution in different parts of the world. 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 suggested that in the first 2 months of lockdown measures last year, driving in Toronto dropped 73%.
People are able to view the world in which they live more clearly, literally. For example, this was reported last April: "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 April 2020 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".
Here's a quotation from ScienceDaily, dated December 2020: "Researchers from several institutions presented their early results in a virtual press conference on Dec. 7 at the American Geophysical Union's 2020 fall meeting. They found that the environment is quickly changing, and the timing of those changes seems to indicate that the pandemic may be a reason. Deforestation rates are changing in some places, air pollution is diminishing, water quality is improving, and snow is becoming more reflective in some areas since the pandemic began earlier this year."
They reported on a variety of topics and looked at a myriad of evidence suggesting that environmental change was afoot. With fewer air pollutants, snow in the Indus River Basin - a network of mountain ranges and rivers near India, China, and Pakistan - has become cleaner. Cleaner snow reflects more light energy and, thus, melts at a slower rate.
Another measurable impact of the pandemic on the environment has been a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. By February 2020, China saw a 40 percent reduction in NO2 levels, the equivalent to removing 192,000 vehicles from the roads. Nearer the end of 2020, major U.S. cities saw a 30 percent drop, and emissions in some U.K. cities fell as much as 60 percent. Pretty impressive!
Air quality isn’t the only environmental factor that an active industrial world affects. Various branches of industry also consume a lot of water; thermoelectric power plants alone use 195 billion gallons every day!! Predictably, as lockdowns slowed activity, global water quality improved. Particulate matter in India’s longest freshwater lake decreased by 15.9 percent on average throughout the pandemic. Similarly, there was a significant water pollution reduction recorded in the San Francisco Bay, mostly due to reduced traffic. After all, the polluting particles from vehicle exhaust can contaminate water, not just air, so emissions and water quality are closely tied.
And then there's human activity. Reduced human activity has not only impacted our natural resources but has allowed for the re-emergence of wildlife.
According to the BBC, dolphins and other marine mammals are coming closer to shore and travelling further into waterways in many countries, including Italy, Greece, and Turkey. Similarly in Israel, families of animals like wild boar have emerged to wander the streets and feast on garbage and compost. In Albania, pink flamingos are flourishing in lagoons on the country's west coastline, where numbers have increased by a third to 3,000, park authorities told AFP.
In August of 2020, it was reported that endangered Olive Ridley sea turtles had returned to Odisha’s Rushikulya hatchery. The sea turtles were able to engage in daytime mass nesting without throngs of people coming to observe them. As of August, over 70,000 Olive Ridleys had arrived at the rookery and it is expected that the peace and space to mate will increase the population!
It has also been reported that in portions of the Amazon rainforest (such as those in Colombia and Peru), deforestation appears to have slowed somewhat since the onset of the pandemic. That's good news!
The bad news? 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", written last year, suggested 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 witnessed - in a manner we'd never experienced - is what happens when you turn off the engines of our exchange economy. IBIS World's collection of fast facts are research analysts who have outlined how the spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus) tanked 15 major economic sectors in Australia, Canada, Germany, New Zealand, the UK, and the US. Although the impact on the global economy was - and is still - 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, 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 cooperation 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.
Take A Moment To Consider This On Earth Day
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 restrictions and lockdowns, 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 ensuring nature remains 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!
Thank you for reading!
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Steven Fudge, Sales Representative
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