Earth Day in the days of coronavirus

‘The Earth is our environment to protect and the garden to tend to.” That’s what Pope Francis said on Earth Day five years ago, in 2015. It was a different time then.

This year, on Wednesday, April 22, citizens around the globe will join together for Earth Day — the world’s largest civic observance with more than 1 billion people participating — once again, if only in spirit and online due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In fact, 2020 is the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. Though unable to celebrate physically because of the coronavirus crisis that has touched every corner of the world, people concerned about the environment and its future have a shared mission: To recognize the impact our actions have on the planet and its inhabitants — man and animal alike.

That’s why we thought now an appropriate time and place to write about planet Earth, its health and how that affects our health — a timely topic if ever there was one. 

There’s no denying that with the closure of nonessential businesses and schools in New York state, the U.S. and internationally, there are fewer vehicles on our roadways and fewer workers commuting to their jobs every day. Manufacturing has slowed. Electricity usage has dropped. Emissions are down and experts say air quality has improved. According to some reports, carbon dioxide levels have dropped by 10% in New York City during the pandemic while carbon monoxide levels have dropped by 50% in NYC. That’s no small feat, though experts predict the change will only be temporary.

Those toxic chemicals, of course, badly affect our health and wellbeing. They also harm the planet, leading to such dire consequences as global warming, which then leads to the glaciers melting and our oceans rising. There’s no disputing that the oceans are getting hotter, and are now 40% more acidic than they once were. 

Also proven: The weather is getting more severe, with hurricanes, wildfires, floods, droughts, heatwaves and more becoming the norm. All of that extreme weather has far-reaching impacts, on agriculture, on food supplies, on pollution and smog, on our forests and, in the long run, on our economy.

Natural habitats are being destroyed and complex ecosystems are in danger of collapsing. Animals big and small are losing their homes. Just look at the polar bear, which was the first animal to be named to the Endangered Species Act list of threatened species due to global warming, in 2008.

That’s why we recommend this Earth Day — when the majority of people are self-isolating at home — you look for inspiration outdoors and online. There are lots of ideas. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is offering ways for all of us to feel more “at home in nature.” It suggests using your backyard as a “living lab for stay-at-home science,” which is especially good advice for families with children at this time. But you don’t have to be a child to appreciate the great outdoors.

The wildlife service describes the natural world as a free clinic of sorts, providing “an endless supply of proven physical and psychological health benefits that we need now more than ever.” Of course, it recommends continuing to practice social distancing — even while outdoors -— during the pandemic. Its ongoing Stay-at-Home Science series, perfect for Earth Day, can be found at www.medium.com/usfishandwildlifeservicenortheast/stay-at-home-science-ad....

But if you prefer to recognize Earth Day while indoors, there’s always Earth Day Live, the Earth Day Network’s 15-hour (from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m.) live digital event at www.earthday.org, with messages, talks, teach-ins and performances from religious leaders, environmental advocates, celebrities, musicians and government officials.

However you take part in Earth Day, we recommend you get started by learning some basic facts. One website worth checking out is www.usafacts.org, the site of a not-for-profit, nonpartisan civic initiative that breaks down comprehensive government data about the environment. 

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