Earth Day: Climate Change in the COVID-19 Era

April 22, 2020

By Lisa Petterson

Greenhouse Gas Emissions in China have plummeted by 18% since the beginning of 2020.
Global emissions are estimated to have been reduced by 5.5% from 2019 levels.
Gasoline use in the US has decreased by 50% in the 2-week period ending April 3rd.
In March, Nitrogen Dioxide levels over parts of the NE are 30% lower than the same average from 2015-2019.

Great news, right?

Unfortunately, these climate-positive results stem from the COVID-19 pandemic and the effects world-wide social distancing practices has had on our use of natural resources. Without a permanent change in habits, these gains are likely to be transitory when the state of emergency is lifted and people return to their old routines. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Grays Harbor College
© FlyWorx

Similar to the person-to-person transmission of coronavirus, climate change is happening in smaller increments that can be easily neglected until the cumulative effects ensue: climbing average yearly temperatures, melting glaciers, destructive hurricanes, intense wildfires, ruinous droughts, species extinction, and many other metrics. Instead of focusing on the things that are hard to measure, our friend and colleague Paul Schwer from PAE Engineers, reminded us of where the planet was 50 years ago and the positive results produced by the collective consciousness of millions since that first Earth Day.

In 1970, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was established.
In 1970, the Clean Air Act was passed.
In 1972, DDT (a type of pesticide) was banned.
In 1972, the Clean Water act was passed.
In 1973, the Endangered Species Act was passed.
In 1973, we began the phaseout of Gasoline.

Specifically – those actions resulted in some amazing rebounds in our natural world.

  • The Bald Eagle population has increased by 2,300% since 1970.
  • The Cuyahoga River, once so toxic it “bubbled and oozed like a caldron,” is now a thriving tourist destination, even producing edible marine life.
  • The Potomac River, previously the “most endangered river” is now inhabited by dolphins for the first time since 1880.
  • And in the last ten years, the cost of wind energy has decreased 70%, solar has decreased 80%, and battery costs have decreased 85%.

Today, we can push these efforts even further! Think about the changes you’ve been willing to make in the name of health.

Although we may not see the legislative changes that resulted from the first Earth Day, let’s make this Earth Day one to remember by taking small incremental steps to a better tomorrow.

What can you do (suggestions from

Travel smarter – Take public transit, bike or walk to work, and do on-line meetings instead of traveling for an in-person meeting, when possible.
Evaluate your Foodprint – Enjoy more plant-based meals, reduce your food waste altogether and compost your food scraps.
Shop Smarter – Consider purchasing reused and pre-loved items and products that minimize waste and keep goods out of our already overflowing landfills.
Vote Earth – Consider climate issues on local, national and global levels – examine the climate and environmental platforms of your candidates, engage these candidates to understand their ambition, and, ultimately, vote at the ballot box for the candidates with clear, ambitious, and convincing plans to protect our planet.
Organize - One person can make a difference, but together, we can make a movement. Consider the communities that you are a part of, whether it's your neighborhood, your school or PTA, your company or organization, your faith institution or yoga group or sports team. Collective action can have a major impact – and major influence – for change. Consider how you can gather support by mobilizing a larger group for action!


Lisa Petterson