Shut down is giving the Earth room to breathe

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Tribune News Service Illustration

Krista Olson-Lehman, Staff Writer

Of all the ways that COVID-19 has changed our world, one of the most startling, and most hopeful, is the way pollution has gone down across the globe.

We first heard about this via NASA, after they reported a significant drop of nitrogen dioxide over China after the lockdown following the COVID-19 crisis there. NASA Earth Observatory reported this significant air quality event on March 1. Following that, on March 15 the BBC reported New York City’s carbon monoxide emissions had dropped by 50%. Now we are seeing significant air quality improvements in other overly polluted countries. Last week The New York Times reported India’s air quality had improved so drastically you could now actually see the stars at night, and the sky was blue in its most polluted city and capital, New Delhi. Monuments such as the War Gate Memorial could now be clearly seen without the thick yellow-brown miasma that surrounds the city. Los Angeles residents have been enjoying the beautiful skyline views, unobstructed by smog.

This shows that changes can impact our environment dramatically. We need to think about a new normal. So many folks can’t wait to get back to “normal.” But “normal” has shown to be killing our planet, and one pandemic has shown what reduced human impact can do for the environment, for climate change, and for people. Less pollution isn’t just something to give us better views of the landscape, or to observe clear night skies and stars. Cleaner air to breathe is something beneficial for humans. We neglect to think about how pollution can harm us, or how it harms the environment. The problem seems too big, and solutions seem oversimplified.

This is not a simple solution, but maybe America can take a hard look at what science has shown about our reduced emissions. Getting back on a carbon reduction plan would be a great start. Returning to the Paris Agreement on climate change could get this country on track to save the world we live in. Back in the 1960s, pollution was horrendous in America and smog was overtaking many of our thriving and growing big cities. In early 1970 Republican President Richard Nixon presented the House and Senate with a 37-point proposal to clean up America’s air and water. With his formation of the Environmental Protection Agency, pollution was reduced, air and water quality improved, and most of all, our waterways and lakes stopped being a place to dump garbage. America needs to take that kind of initiative once more to keep our country clean, but more importantly for the good of our entire planet.

Perhaps companies can learn something too. More workers telecommuting to work is less overhead for them. Less office space needed, less electricity running. Less people driving in rush hour traffic.

If you feel small in the grand scheme of things, don’t. We as individuals can do something to change our carbon footprint. Here’s a few examples:

  • Carpooling or taking the bus to school or work
  • Eating less meat, especially red meat, in your diet.
  • Unplugging devices when not being used or finished charging
  • Using recycled products or eco-friendly alternatives like paper products made from bamboo and sugarcane
  • Recycling or donating unused items to keep them from landfills, especially clothing
  • Planting a garden
  • Eating local crops and organic crops
  • Line drying clothing instead of using the dryer

While many of us are still living in apartments, things like line drying and garden planting might be out of our reach for now. But any small steps we can take to help reduce carbon emissions is a step in the right direction.

We only have one Earth, let’s all work together to make sure we keep it as pristine as we can.