Earth Day Reflections

By: Emma Miao (Grade 10)

Sustainability in a post-Covid-19 world

This April, we witnessed history. 

On the eve of the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, the price of crude oil dropped to $-40.32 per barrel. This was a timely echo of Earth Day’s origins: in the wake of an oil spill, 1970.

Oil has always been at the center of the environmental debate. Covid-19, more clearly than ever, has proved that blue waters in Venice and clear skies in China are directly correlated with a drop in oil consumption across the world. While the Earth is “taking a breather,” we should listen to Earth’s message, and look for more ways of sustainable living after Covid-19 ends. 

The percentage of greenhouse emissions due to oil is staggering. According to National Geographic, cars and trucks collectively account for nearly ⅕ of US carbon dioxide emissions, and it is the largest contributor to climate change worldwide. Stopping production meant visible results: in the first months of 2020, emissions fell by 25% in China, and “good quality air” was up 11.4% compared to last year. 

This article from The Economist analyzes the causes and environmental repercussions of a gutted oil market. As crude oil frackers desperately try to sell remaining crude to unwilling manufacturers, the West Texas Intermediate fell to below $0 for the first time in its history. The drop “reflect[ed] the panicked realisation that oil may have nowhere to go.” 

Fossil fuels were in decline long before the Covid-19 pandemic—prices plummeted in ‘16 and ‘18—and this Vox quote from Jim Cramer summarises it quite nicely: “I’m done with fossil fuels. They’re done. They’re just done.” With oil quite literally underground, we should rethink our modes of sustainable transportation; in particular, using renewable energy.

And good news. Giants like Sprint, Google, and Amazon have been busy signing renewable deals as Covid-19 rampaged through the first few months of 2020. If successful, “investing in renewable energy would deliver global GDP gains of $98tn above a business-as-usual scenario by 2050 by returning between $3 and $8 on every dollar invested.” This is according to Francesco La Camera from International Renewable Energy Agency

The aforementioned report, which was published earlier this year, “found that renewable energy could curb the rise in global temperatures by helping to reduce the energy industry’s carbon dioxide emissions by 70% by 2050 by replacing fossil fuels.

We as individuals can make earth-conscious energy choices, too. If you can’t yet invest in sustainable technologies, walk to school, plant trees, shop less, join Planet Club, bake. (because baking uses electric ovens!) There are countless things you can do for the Earth that, no matter how small, will make a positive impact on our world. 

Covid-19 calls for radical, systemic change. It brings to light how ill-prepared global structures are to combat climate change— it should not take a global lockdown and economic crisis to fix the environment. “It’s the worst possible way to experience environment improvement and it has also shown us the size of the task,” said Michael Gerrard, an environmental law expert at Columbia University. 

Covid-19 showed us what a crisis looks like. Let’s treat climate change as one, too. 

Milman, Oliver. Pandemic Side-Effects Offer Glimpse of Alternative Future on Earth Day 2020.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 22 Apr. 2020.

 

 

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