But this disorienting new green reality is generating little enthusiasm as the cause is the coronavirus pandemic that has ravaged much of the world.
“This is not the way we would have wanted it to happen, God no,” said Gina McCarthy, former director of the US Environmental Protection Agency for the Obama administration. “It was only a disaster that brought to light the underlying challenges we face. It’s not something to celebrate. “
Wednesday’s annual Earth Day event, which takes place largely online this year, comes as public health restrictions to prevent the spread of Covid-19 have resulted in a sharp drop in air pollution in China, Europe and the United States, with carbon emissions from the burning of fossil fuels are heading for a record annual decline of 5%.
The waters of Venice are now clear, lions bask on the roads normally used by safari enthusiasts in South Africa and bears and coyotes roam empty accommodation in Yosemite National Park in California.
Meanwhile, nearly eight in ten flights worldwide have been canceled, with many planes in the United States carrying only a handful of people. The petroleum industry, one of the main drivers of the climate crisis and the direct environmental disaster, is in turmoil, with a barrel of crude reaching an unprecedented low – $ 40 on Monday.
Perhaps these would be the kind of results seen if strict environmental policies were put in place following the first Earth Day in 1970, which saw 20 million Americans rally to support anti-pollution measures.
Instead, the pain of the shutdown of Covid-19 has highlighted the heaviness of the global response – the expected reduction in emissions, for example, is still less than what scientists say is needed each year this decade to avoid disastrous climatic effects for much of the world.
“This is the worst possible way to experience environmental improvement and it has also shown us the magnitude of the task,” said Michael Gerrard, environmental law expert at the Columbia University.
According to Gerrard, how people will react to a return to normal after the pandemic will help define the crises that plague the environment. “A key question will be whether we have a green recovery, are we seizing the opportunity to create jobs in renewable energy and make the coasts more resistant to climate change?” he said. “The current American president clearly has no desire to do so. “
McCarthy, now head of the Natural Resources Defense Council, noted that some Indians were seeing the Himalayas for the first time due to the veil of air pollution.
“You wonder if people will want to go back to what it was before,” she said. “The pandemic has shown that people will change their behavior if it is not for the health of their families. This is the lost message on the climate, that it is a human problem, not a planetary problem. We have to show that you can have a stable environment and so can your work. “
Problems in the natural world have not suddenly gone away – this week various researchers found that the Arctic is most likely free of sea ice during the summers before 2050, than the bushfires that set Australia on fire more earlier this year released more carbon than the country. CO2 and the first quarter of 2020 was the second hottest on record.
Donald Trump has said he will try to provide a bailout for the US oil and gas industry, with $ 25 billion already provided by the US government to support the airlines. In China, it is uncertain whether the “wet markets” filled with wild animals from which Covid-19 is said to be closed.
Environmentalists warn that returning the world to its pre-pandemic parameters will quickly wipe out all of the environmental benefits of the closure.
“This is a serious warning,” said Thomas Lovejoy, an environmentalist who coined the term “biological diversity”. “We bulldoze in the last places in nature, then we are surprised when something like this happens. We did this to ourselves through our continued intrusion into nature. We have to change course. “