This year marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day


Today is the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, a global holiday meant to celebrate and care for the planet. However, with Earth Day falling in the midst of a global pandemic, it can be easy to forget about the holiday that thousands of people have worked to create and sustain. 

As we reflect on the last five decades of environmental work of cleaning the Earth, it is crucial to recognize what is currently happening to our environment in light of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

To keep citizens safe, countries around the world have closed businesses and shut down large social gatherings. Because of this, cities that are known for their polluted air and water are experiencing significant environmental benefits. 

China, a nation which has some of the worst air quality anywhere in the world, has seen their air pollution levels drop by roughly 25 percent as citizens stay indoors and businesses are shut down.

Lauri Myllyvirta, a lead analyst at the Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air, spoke of the issue in an interview with NPR.

It is an unprecedented dramatic drop in emissions. I’ve definitely spoken to people in Shanghai who said that it’s been some of the most pristine blue skies that they remember over the winter,” Myllyvirta said.

Oceans are also cleaner than in recent years. Pollution levels in the water have decreased as beaches close and people remain indoors, turning waters which were once murky gray into a clear blue. 

The canals in Venice, Italy are among the most affected as fish and swans return to swim in the once-brown water.  

These environmental changes are largely being regarded as temporary because the world will not remain “shut down” forever. The sustainability of these drastic changes is questionable, but what is evident is the massive effect on our environment in a shockingly short amount of time. 

Valentina Kretzschmar, director of corporate research for the consultancy Wood Mackenzie, elaborated on the issue in an interview with Axios. 

“This unfortunate massive slowdown in our global economy is also providing a glimpse of what nature could look like with clean waters in Venice and clean skies in China,” Kretzschmar said.

Many hope that although these changes might not have the ability to last forever without people implementing extreme lifestyle changes, people will use this time as an opportunity to visualize a cleaner future.

In recent years, environmentalists have made it clear that 2020 would be a “critical year” when it came to limiting the long-lasting impacts of global warming, and hopefully preventing the irreversible damage on our world caused by pollutants and fossil fuels.