If there ever was a warning sign from Earth, it happened this week. Siberia, a region known for its unrelenting cold and frigidly unforgiving landscape, hit a disturbing milestone: 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit. Unfortunately, this is on par for 2020. The year saw the hottest January on record, the second-hottest February on record, the second-hottest March on record, the second-hottest April on record and the hottest May on record. The year also saw the highest levels of carbon dioxide ever recorded in the atmosphere.
Together, the records are warning signs, highlighting the structural changes necessary to break our carbon-emitting habits. Fortunately, many of these changes can be incorporated in green recovery plans.
In the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, countries have an opportunity to cash in on a green recovery. Only some, however, are taking advantage of it (the elephant absent from the room is the United States).
And in these recovery plans, countries must address restoration, so that the Earth may revert back to its natural state, where both biodiversity and humanity can thrive.
At the forefront of everyone’s minds is the pandemic — and the emergence of diseases are more likely in a climate-changed world. Lockdowns to prevent the spread of the coronavirus have flattened the curve in some areas, but they’ve also had unintended environmental benefits.
Amid the shutdowns, the Earth has gotten the chance to breathe, and animals have flourished in a humanless world. In India, people can see the Himalyan mountain range for the first time in decades.
But these changes are only temporary. As economies rev up again, we’re already seeing emissions rise with them. And if we don’t invest in a green recovery plan, these short-term benefits might be all for nought.
These warning signs also highlight how important it is to avoid returning to a business-as-usual model, one that disproportionately affects already vulnerable populations. Studies confirm that low-income communities of color are disproportionately exposed to pollution of all kinds, despite not causing it. To make matters worse, a recent study from Harvard linked air pollution to an increase in COVID-19 death rates.
Reforestation initiatives, like Earth Day Network’s The Canopy Project (where $1=1 tree planted), are crucial in this fight. Forests are carbon sinks and host a wealth of biodiversity — but as we deforest, we release this carbon while also coming into closer contact with zoonotic diseases like COVID-19.
Protecting habitats is also crucial to restoring our Earth. Limiting or banning mining, drilling and development in areas allows the Earth to revert to its natural state. Marine protected areas are one example of this, limiting human activities in open waters and also revitalizing threatened species and coral reefs, which are especially at-risk in a warming world.
But these are only some solutions. As one study published this month shows even protected areas are threatened by human activity, with plastic rain falling down in some of the United States’ most pristine National Parks.
All these efforts to restore Earth are necessary for creating a liveable future. But they’re not enough on their own: We also need policy change.
Unfortunately, over the last four years, and especially lately, the United States has been heading in the wrong direction, rolling back federal regulations put in place to protect our planet. That’s why voting in November is so important.
This Election Day, vote in solidarity with the Earth, to ensure that all have equitable access to the resources and healthy environments necessary to survive and thrive. Vote Earth.