All over the news, we’ve been seeing evidence that while we are sheltering in place due to the novel coronavirus, the Earth is healing. Dolphins are swimming through the canals in Venice, Italy. Wild turkeys are walking through the empty streets of downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota. Here in Peru, the Andean spectacled bears are exploring Machu Picchu. Is this a sign that things are turning around with regards to the environment and climate change? Or is there more to the story?
It is true that carbon emissions are currently down all over the world. As more people stay home, fewer people are driving cars and flying in airplanes, and we are seeing clear blue skies over cities well-known for their pollution, such as Los Angeles, California. We have seen something similar in the past, however. Due to the financial crisis in 2008, people also reduced their carbon consumption, which decreased the global CO2 emissions by 1.4%. This was great, however, just two years later, global CO2 emissions rose by 5.9%. If we allow history to repeat itself, the rebound in emissions may be higher than the reduction as people come out of their homes, trying to make up for lost time.
Along with this, while short-term emissions and air pollution have dropped significantly, greenhouse gases are still being emitted, and CO2 levels in the atmosphere are still at record highs. A few months of reduced emissions are not enough to offset decades of industry. The last time CO2 levels were as high as they are currently was millions of years ago when the entire Earth was much warmer.
There is good news, however. For one, the reduction in air pollution has already saved thousands of lives. Many people die each year from pollution-related lung problems, and these deaths have been averted. Hopefully, as people get used to cleaner, bluer skies and breathing more easily, we will be spurred to keep it up. While most of the world wants to get back to how things were ‘before,’ doing this will bring back the good, the bad, and the ugly.
So, rather than rush to live life the way we did before, let us use this experience as a lesson in how to treat each other as well as our beloved Pachamama (Mother Earth). Live each day with intention and kindness. Eat foods that are minimally processed, which helps to not only keep you healthier, but the Earth as well. Go for a long walk or bike ride rather than a long drive. And once we are able to travel again, travel responsibly– buy local while you are in another country, learn all you can about the culture you are visiting, and ask questions of someone who lives where you are planning to visit.