Earth Day 50: A blessing in disguise?

Due to the impact a 1969 oil spill in Santa Barbara, California, had on ecology and wildlife, the late Wisconsin U.S. Sen. Gaylord Nelson established a national holiday focused exclusively on environmental protection. But for Nelson, the oil spill was the last straw of other environmental issues including smog, acid rain, and polluted rivers driving him to demand action.

On this day 50 years ago, Nelson’s efforts finally came to fruition when 20 million Americans took to the streets demonstrating for a healthy, sustainable environment. Today, Earth Day is recognized as the planet’s largest civic sustainability event.

While many of us won’t be able to experience the true outdoor beauty, our planet has to offer, an alternative view demonstrates how home isolation itself may be a fitting way to celebrate Earth Day’s 50th birthday. And that’s because decreased human activity is already benefiting environments across the globe.

An article from Newsweek noted scientists have noticed improvements in air quality across several countries—including China and Italy—as daily travel and economic activity have come to temporary halts. In the article, Associate Professor of Environmental Health at Johns Hopkins University Peter DeCarlo, spoke to some of these positive changes.

“Air pollution levels as observed by satellites are showing drastic improvements in many areas that have been undergoing restrictive quarantines due to COVID-19,” said DeCarlo. “Both China and Italian industrial areas are showing strong drops in nitrogen dioxide (NO2), corresponding to reductions in industrial and vehicular traffic.”

According to DeCarlo, this isn’t surprising considering vehicles and industry are the main sources of nitrogen dioxide pollution.

Worldwide improvements in environmental conditions also extend beyond air quality. Italian waterways are the clearest they’ve been in over 60 years. Social media posts have shown drastic changes to the notoriously murky canals of Venice, resulting from reduced boat traffic and tourist activity. One tweet shows changes in frequent human activities have welcomed the return of wildlife, like fish and swans, to legendary Italian waterways. The Guardian newspaper also recently posted a YouTube video showcasing the flourishing Italian aquatic environment, including dolphins swimming in a port in Sardinia.

Most years, people enjoy celebrating today by improving the environment outdoors, be planting trees or by picking up trash along the highway While these outdoor activities may sound like a more productive way to spend the holiday’s 50th anniversary, it’s important to consider the possibility that, like these other countries that have quarantined longer, the U.S. environment may also benefit from a temporary break in human activity Take solace in the fact that, by staying indoors, you are providing mother nature with some much needed rest.

By Garrett Seymour, TDS Communications Intern

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