Earth Day 2020: Coronavirus Teaches Us About Travel And The Environment

a satellite in space above the earth
Courtesy: NASA

Earth Day 2020: What Coronavirus Teaches Us About Travel And The Environment

It’s Earth Day 2020, which is the 50th anniversary of Earth Day.  This day stresses the importance of the Earth and doing what we can to keep the environment sustainable.  I’m a big believer in the importance of the environment, but I also think there are people who take it just way too far (looking at you, Green New Deal).  Coronavirus is a terrible thing and is impacting the world in many ways.  But it’s also an opportunity to self-reflect.  This Earth Day, we should think about what we can do during normal times to help the environment, including the impact travel has on the environment.

Around the world, the near standstill of people moving around the world has already impacted the environment.  We have already seen the impact it has had on animals.  Around the world, animals are moving out into more public areas as people remain locked inside.

Air pollution numbers have reached unprecedented levels in major cities around the world.  Pollution in Delhi, India dropped by 60% over the course of three weeks, while pollution in Seoul, South Korea dropped 54% over the same time period.  Los Angeles saw a reduction of 31% in emissions, while New York City had a reduction of 25% of emissions.

a collage of different maps
Data shows pollution levels by year over India. Courtesy: Image: © Joshua Stevens/NASA Earth Observatory/Terra/MODIS/Pawan Gupta/USRA

Of course, that pollution is not exclusively related to travel.  After all, air travel only contributes about 2.5% of the world’s emissions.  However, that number is quickly growing in recent years.  And travel itself contributes even more when you take into account taxis, hotel energy costs, and other costs associated with travel.

Traveling Impacts The Environment

Coronavirus shows us the impacts travel can have.  Lower emissions with factories closed and less flights in the air make the air cleaner and fresher.  Water quality in industrial countries like China are vastly improved.  Animals in South Africa are moving and coming out in South Africa in areas typically inundated with tourists.

On Earth Day, it’s important to think about these things when we return to normal, whatever it is that new normal looks like.  People will soon begin to jet around the world for a business meeting they could have had on Zoom.  People won’t stop to think before using a straw they might not need.

Travel Is Good

This is not to say that travel is evil and frequent flyers who do it often are evil.  I don’t believe in the Swedish movement of flygskam, which is a Swedish word that literally translates to “flight shame.”  It’s a movement formed to shame people who choose to fly over other forms of transportation.

I believe wholeheartedly that travel opens up people to the world.  It gives them the ability to have a better understanding of the people and cultures that make the human race what it is.  Travel should not be vilified.  In fact, as somebody who didn’t start to see the world until I was in my 20s, it should be encouraged.

We Should Still Be Mindful

But we should still be mindful about our choices and the impact they have.  Be mindful that if there’s a train that gets you there in a reasonable amount of time, maybe it’s a viable option to consider.  Be mindful that if a meeting can take place over Zoom, perhaps it’s not worth flying across the country.  As you visit tourist sites, particularly natural sites, think about leaving it like you found it.  Of course, there is the basic (but still not regularly practiced) principle of getting rid of your trash the proper way.

These are simple steps the individual can take to be aware of the impact they have.  And on this day in particular, it’s something worth thinking about.

Bottom Line

We only have one Earth, and we should do what we can to preserve it.  Clean air and water are wonderful things.  But so is travel and the ability to see the lives and cultures of others.  Both are important to our well-being as a human race.  Happy Earth Day 2020!

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