This year on Earth day we got an age-old lesson once again from the Global Pandemic that we are facing right now: “We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.” The world is facing an unprecedented challenge in the form of COVID 19 virus outbreak which has killed thousands of people in several countries across the globe. Covid-19 has sent the world’s economies into a downward spiral and recession looms large on the horizon. Businesses have been shut down and populations locked down. The United Nations has declared Covid-19 a pandemic. Survival is a challenge in such a scenario.

As the Earth Day turns 50 this year, sadly Corona Virus took over its charm. About 50 years after the first Earth Day, we are right in the middle of a pandemic and we all have realised that we need science more than anything else. On 22 April 1970, 25 million people witnessed an event that came to be known as Earth Day. It helped in spreading public awareness about environment related issues and how science is an integral part of our life system. Today 50 years later, a global pandemic Covid-19 has once again drawn our attention towards the need of science.

Why Do We Need to Care about Earth Day during a Global Pandemic Covid-19?

On 22nd April 1970, 20 million Americans participated in rallies, festivals and protests on the very first Earth Day. The occasion was the stepping stone for the modern environmental movement and helped to pave the way for the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) later that year. On that Earth Day, people of the United States came together to demand a sustainable future and protest against industrial pollution and if history is to be believed, it worked. It made way for many environment movements for the coming years.

Economic disruptions caused by COVID-19 lockdowns present a unique environmental moment for action on environment related issues. The lockdowns imposed all over the world to contain the pandemic have temporarily – and drastically – reduced the world’s carbon emissions, particularly from cars, planes and manufacturing.

While the people all over the world are trying to stay indoors in the safety of their homes (who are blessed with one) to avoid catching COVID-19, the Earth and its elements are meanwhile breathing freely in the absence of humans. From Malabar Civets of Kozhikode to Nilgais of Noida to Flamingos of Mumbai to Olive Ridley turtles coming ashore on a beach in Odisha.

Rare species of many birds and animals are fearlessly walking into the cities, revisiting their old habitats. Not only in India but also in Italy, dolphins reportedly returned to the canals of Venice. In Poland, deer were seen walking around the town. Wild turkeys entered a playground in California, US. Paris witnessed some wild pigs on its streets. And the skies have never looked so blue with the factories shut and vehicles off the roads. 

Not just in China, but vehicular movement has come to a standstill all over the world. The temporary shutdown of commercial establishments has resulted in a severe drop in the pollution levels in almost every country. As of last month Delhi was said to be one of the most polluted capital in the world with a PM2.5 concentration as high as 161.

What is PM2.5? PM in simple terms is atmospheric particulate matter which has a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometers, which precisely is 3% the diameter of a human hair. Thanks to the lockdown, the AQI (Air Quality Index) has reduced to 82 as per the latest data, which falls under the ‘satisfactory’ category. There has been a noticeable decrease in the levels of carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide. So, while people are tackling the COVID-19 virus, the lockdown has given the planet Earth a breather to recover a bit from global warming. 

Coming to Marine life, the river Ganga which was earlier said to have the purest water, so pure that water could be consumed straight from the source, saw a sharp dip in its quality with increasing human settlements. However, amid the lockdown, Ganga Pollution Control Board stated that the water quality of the river Ganga has improved over the past one month. Even river Yamuna has the same story, it has also seen a drastic reduction in the fecal coliform levels during this lockdown. The good news is it is also finally free of foam.

People who live in cities, the sounds of fast moving traffic seemed like a day-to-day affair and regular lullabies to our ears. This noise has been subdued by nature, with lockdown in place. The leaves are rustling, the air is cleaner and finally the chirping of birds is loud and audible. According to Forbes, even the seismologists have acknowledged the reduction in the noise levels. Less seismic noise and vibrations in the Earth’s crust have been reported by the scientists. One benefit of all these is that procedures to detect possible earthquakes and other seismic activities can be more accurate. 

Today it’s been 50 years since the first Earth Day. Somehow it is the right time to think and plan about a better green future. We’ve got a solution to propose. On this unusual Earth Day anniversary, we need to find new ways to celebrate our common humanity and work together to solve the world’s most wicked environment challenges. Perhaps COVID-19 has something to teach us here: we cannot afford to just stand idly by, as the signs of impending calamity move towards our shores. We, together, share this fragile planet and we simply have to find ways to work together to make it better for our future generations.

The same spirit that now forces us to work together to address the COVID-19 pandemic can also be harnessed to address the long-term challenge of climate change and earth’s well-being. 

With the world economy in recession due to Covid19 lockdown, every country has a chance to restart their economy with a green stimulus. Instead of worrying about bailing out the fossil fuel industry, countries should think about bailing out workers, investing in possible renewable energy projects, housing, and infrastructure. Lay the groundwork for a transformational Green New World that will center the experiences of communities who are on the front-lines of the climate crisis and COVID-19. We know another world is possible. We know we can have the future we all always deserved.

Fifty years ago on that first Earth Day, 20 million people took to the streets with a mission. Now, just as it is imperative to stay at home to protect ourselves and our neighbours from Covid19, it is imperative and the right time to act together — from home — to demand a livable future. This Earth Day, we pledge for climate justice and for a green future. The planet is healing itself, with humans indoors due to coronavirus. We all want this global Pandemic to get over as soon as possible. But it is surprising to see how nature can detoxify itself if we humans don’t take care of it. May be the golden jubilee of the “Earth Day” is the best time to retrospect our actions towards nature.

About Arpita Shome

Green Ubuntu Evangelist. Arpita Shome is an environmental enthusiast and an alumna of St. Xavier's College, Kolkata. She wants to create awareness among people regarding environment-related issues and encourage them to take up a sustainable lifestyle keeping in mind the ecosystem.