Pandemic could be pivotal moment for environment (Opinion) | TahoeDailyTribune.com
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Pandemic could be pivotal moment for environment (Opinion)

Bonnie Turnbull
Guest column

We have discovered how quickly our world can change and have made sacrifices. It’s clear that we cherish the health and well-being of our communities.

Our response to COVID-19 has also benefited the health of our planet. So, now, on the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, our skies are the cleanest they have in over a century.

They are so clean, that climate scientist, Katherine Hayhoe, says we have achieved one-quarter to one-third of the reductions of the Paris Accord in just one month.

So clean, Marshall Burke of Stanford University estimates that China’s coronavirus lockdown saved 77,000 lives — which is more than died in the pandemic.

We might think good for China, but their shuttered factories make the stuff we buy, and their air moves around the globe and becomes ours. What happens in China does not stay in China.

We have, unintentionally, responded to this crisis in ways that are also slowing climate change.

Are you, like many others, cleaning out closets while homebound? When you repurpose, sell, donate, or keep your stuff longer, you are saving lives — and our planet. Who knew you could be a superhero while cleaning closets?

Are you telecommuting and consolidating errands, too? Thank you. You have helped those with asthma breathe a little easier and you have prevented so many car accidents that my insurance company alone is returning $520 million in premiums. One of those accidents may have happened to you.

Yes, many have been forced to slow down, so we have “made lemonade.” We have found time to bake bread and cook meals. To save grocery trips, we buy in bulk and eat food before it spoils. Both reduce our garbage. (Americans discard almost a pound of food a day.)

Many locals are experimenting with plant-based diets–healthier for both you and the planet. We have been outdoors planting seeds and walking in our neighborhoods. Our pets are thrilled. We hear the joyful sounds of children playing and we have met neighbors we didn’t know. We have strengthened our relationships.

We will build a better future if we can keep these habits.

Global pandemic is a sudden crisis. In contrast, climate change is a slow one. We cannot lower the “peak” with several months of dramatic action when the crisis becomes overwhelming. It has taken over a century to develop, and the “curve” will span lifetimes.

This can be a pivotal moment for us. Our old habits make us and the planet sick. Let’s foster these new, healthier habits as we rebuild our society and systems. Envision cleaner air and water, healthier people, food that doesn’t destroy the biosphere, energy independence that allows us to sidestep world conflicts.

Trillion-dollar stimulus packages show us that, if the political will, our will, is strong enough, heroic efforts will be made. This is our moment to transform our future and create a more livable one for ourselves, our children, and grandchildren.

Bonnie Turnbull is a member of South Lake Tahoe’s 100% Renewable Committee


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