This is a week of milestones. For me, it will mark nearly 50 days of working remotely. It also marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. While talking with friends and family over the last two months, I find a common thread: a gratefulness for time spent outdoors, whether it’s a walk around the neighborhood, journey to a farm for blueberry picking or a bike ride through the emptier-than-usual streets. Almost unknowingly, we’ve celebrated Earth Day for the past 50 days.
As a marine scientist, I went into quarantine with an inherent appreciation for our planet; however, I’ll be the first to admit a preference for Netflix and air conditioning over Florida’s heat and mosquitoes. But, when I was forced to stay home, outside held a different appeal. The outdoors are now the only escape from endless trips between my desk and the fridge. A scroll through my Instagram feed reflects this change. Gone are the selfies and lattes, replaced with sunsets and artfully filtered landscapes. Across the country, we’ve all acquired a new appreciation for our Earth.
Along with this newfound connection to the planet, our time in quarantine has forced us to stop moving. In New York City, traffic has decreased by 35% compared to the previous year as a result of stay-at-home orders. A recent study from Columbia University found fewer vehicles on the road resulted in the reduction of carbon monoxide emissions by nearly 50%. The San Francisco Bay area is also experiencing improved air quality as residents stay home. Only 50 days, yet we are seeing clear and measurable change.
Right now, many of us only have the bandwidth to deal with one crisis. COVID-19 is here and it is pressing. Another pressing issue — though it may not impact us as quickly as a global health pandemic — is climate change. If we don’t address climate change today, we’ll certainly have to deal with it soon. So, when we decide to tackle climate change, we can take with us the lessons we’ve learned while in quarantine. Transport currently makes up 23% of our global carbon emissions. The majority of those emissions come from driving. Companies that have adopted remote working practices should reassess working conditions when we regain some semblance of normal life. Is it necessary for employees to commute to the office every day? Think about how we could reduce our carbon footprint if three out of five days we worked from home.
Maybe the most important lesson is for each of us as individuals. After quarantine, we must remember our connection to the Earth. Why do we love this planet? What makes it worth protecting? Consider this when visiting the polls. Vote for politicians who commit to protecting the Earth and the things we are holding dear while in quarantine. Consider your connection to the planet when making daily decisions. Realize that the positive effects of individual actions, while small, can accumulate over time, especially when done by many. In short, let’s celebrate Earth Day every day.
Carey Schafer is a marine science graduate student at the University of South Florida College of Marine Science where she studies carbon cycling in the mangrove forests of southwest Florida.