May. 1, 2020

Environmental improvements temporary?

So I am seeing a lot of posts on Facebook and news stories on how the environment is improving during our lock down. From Los Angeles to the Himalayans, skies are clear and clean revealing mountain views not seen for some time. In some places, children are seeing the Milky Way in the night sky for the first time ever. Waterways such as in Venice are clearing. Some have noted that fish and dolphins are returning, although I suspect they were there all along but the water was too turbid for anyone to see them. Even more than just appearances, actual measurements of greenhouse gases such as nitrogen dioxide, show reductions in the atmosphere. Carbon is predicted to be reduced by 8%. There also seems to be an improvement in the ozone layer that protects us from UV radiation from the sun.

But, now we do have evidence that human activity has a large impact on the environment. There is a climate denier argument that humans couldn’t possibly impact the atmosphere in a major way. To think that mere humans could do such a thing is hubris because God made the earth and God is so much more powerful than humans. If our technology can’t fix it, surely God will. Now that we have been forced to stop so many of our activities, actual scientific measurements are providing evidence to show the impact of people on the environment, particularly the atmosphere and waterways. The over 7 billion humans on the planet do have an impact on the air and water.

We have the power to impact it positively or negatively.

And while we focus on the pandemic, environmental protections are being rolled back. The Environmental Protection Agency has given a sweeping relaxation of environmental rules in response to the coronavirus pandemic, allowing power plants, factories and other facilities to determine for themselves if they are able to meet legal requirements on reporting air and water pollution. The agency will not issue fines for violations of certain air, water and hazardous-waste-reporting requirements. The anti-regulatory agents of the petrochemical industry that are currently running the EPA are using this emergency to move forward with their agenda and nobody is paying much attention.

I don’t want to burst anyone’s bubble about environmental improvements, but they will most likely be temporary. I say most likely because I see a little sliver of hope that maybe this event will be cathartic for us as species. As soon as people start moving out of quarantine, will we just go back to ‘normal.’? If we do, then for sure these environmental improvements will be only temporary.

Unless…

Maybe we might start thinking about doing things differently, perhaps even begin to adopt more earth friendly behaviors. And there are logical reasons to consider that could actually improve the quality of people’s lives. We could start by living to live instead of living to earn money. I know it isn’t the case for everyone, but I think many families have strengthened their bonds during this time. People found time for creative endeavors, home improvement projects, gardening and maybe just playing. There is something wrong with a system that keeps people from living full lives at home and at work. In addition, it turns out that decentralizing our energy and food production is more healthy and resilient for all involved. This will require major changes in our economic and political systems because currently, our systems consider moneyed interests above what’s best for people and other living things. Isn’t it moneyed interests that are driving opening up before our mortality rate has leveled off. We do have the highest death rate of any country in the world. What do we value?

Maybe we will learn other things from this pandemic. For example, there are three areas in our nation that are having hot clusters of the virus. Food packing plants, nursing homes and prisons. General health protocols in each of these areas needs to be assessed and revised. I have mentioned the idea of localization and its resilience factor over centralization in terms of food and energy production. We need to also look at facilities where people are too close together to avoid such clusters in the future. Perhaps there are healthier ways to run production lines and house people. And why have we been convinced that bigger is better or that quantity is better than quality.

So, we have a chance to do things better when we come out of quarantine. And maybe if we care enough to make our world a better place, it will become a better place.