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Opinion: What COVID-19 Can Teach Us About the Environment

The following is a letter to the editor from Hardin Minor, a First Earth Day environmental activist of 50 years. He was in the process of producing a community-wide, free, interactive family celebration of Earth Day at First Ward Park slated for April 25, 2020 which has now been postponed until April 2021. So he wrote to us instead. 

“Anger that sinks into despair is powerless to make a change. Anger that evolves into conviction is unstoppable.” Christiana Figueres & Tom Rivett-Carnac, The Future We Choose: Surviving the Climate Crisis

It has taken a global pandemic to finally unite the world community in the common purpose of defending ourselves against a virus that knows no boundaries, no political parties, no race or religion. COVID-19 is an equal-opportunity destroyer.

By golly, look what we have done!

We have changed our behaviors. We have stopped doing many of the things that we love to do for the sake of protecting ourselves from sickness. We have listened to scientists and experts! We have heeded warnings! What smart, attentive humans we are! This outbreak has definitively demonstrated that Humanity is interconnected to each other and to our ecosystems.

You may have seen Hardin Minor and his globe at local environmental actions.

Will this be the lesson we have needed to awaken us to the similar dangers facing all of humanity as we continue to suffocate the lungs of the world with deadly, dirty emissions just like COVID-19 attacks our lungs? Will this be the moment where we suddenly recognize ourselves as a destroyer of the ecosystems that support all life on this planet just like the coronavirus is trying to destroy us?

Yes, I am suggesting that humans are having as deadly an impact on the ability of our ecosystems to continue to support life/our lives as the coronavirus is to our health, our ability to keep breathing. Now do you understand what Greta Thunberg and our brave youth have been saying?!

If we learn nothing from this pandemic then we have no chance of helping to do what it takes to heal our ecosystems by changing our behaviors. If we survive this virus and return to fueling the ecological catastrophe of our convenience lifestyle then we will have gained nothing from this warning.

The experience of COVID-19 should be a striking wake up call to us all that the ecosystems that support us are sick. This outbreak has made us aware of how dangerous things can get if we don’t act individually and collectively, decisively and swiftly.

Because of fossil fuel and other emissions causing global temperatures to rise, the polar ice that reflects much of the sun’s radiation is being drastically reduced, leading to even greater warming of our oceans and thus more, faster melting of the ice caps.

Burning and clearing Amazon rainforest (the southern lungs of the planet) to make way for more cattle to feed our craving for fast-food beef, then leads to further increase in global warming gases. Cutting down magnificent old growth boreal forests of Canada and Russia (the northern lungs of the planet) to make premium toilet tissue further decreases the ability of our planetary filtering systems to clean the carbon emissions from the atmosphere that will impact the lungs of our children (asthma) and the elderly (respiratory death).

It is finally time to actually see/understand that our planet is the proverbial living Garden of Eden that is capable of healing itself. Have you seen the latest satellite photographs showing a sudden clearing of congested air over major cities because of the significant reduction of auto emissions practically overnight? Did you hear that dolphins and swans have returned to the canals of Venice for the first time in ages?

Burano, Venice, Italy (Photo by Dorian Mongel)

Nature is our ally if we can appreciate the gifts it gives us every moment. You’re probably thinking, “Yeah right, Green Boy … nature gave us CV-19 … what a gift … thanks,” which brings me back to my premise: This a wake up call for a reason.

Deniers, delayers, the confused and under-informed fellow citizens of this, our one and only Earth, what kind of sign are you waiting for??? If it’s a Biblical apocalypse you want so you can experience “The Rapture” … simultaneous extinction of not only millions of creatures but of humans as well… then do NOTHING! Your apocalypse is coming sooner than you can imagine … But guess what, dear Holy Rollers? Jesus will not be back to “save” you/me/us. He may have taught us how to treat each other when the manure hits the nuclear power plant meltdown and may have given us hope to believe that we will gloriously continue forever after we die, but what about NOW???

WE are responsible for our time on this planet. It is up to US to do the work we have been given to do. We cannot depend on “Magical Christianity.” (And where are all the Franklin Grahams & Jerry Falwells who so self righteously called the AIDS virus, Hurricane Katrina and other natural disasters “Acts of God” to punish the so-called heathens?)

If we can unite in our fear of COVID-19 to take all measures to quell its temperature, chills and death, can we not join together for the health of the ecosystems that up until now have allowed us to live on this Earth for 6,000+ years? We have been sitting in the sweet spot, with perfect conditions for our existence, but the bill is NOW DUE and we’ve got to be responsible enough to share the costs of this extraordinary dinner we have been voraciously consuming.

Like carbon emissions, the coronavirus is invisible. But unlike the immediacy of the COVID-19, carbon emissions are slowly, insidiously building with a far greater impact to come. Remember, this Blue Planet can and will continue to exist in an altered form even if we don’t act, but not necessarily with human life.

Now wash your hands, keep social distance, help each other so we can get through this pandemic and use this moment of awakening to give ourselves a chance of saving our ecosystems for generations to come.

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