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Silver lining: Earth benefits from people isolating

Trees on campus

If you think the sky seems clearer and more blue, it’s not because you haven’t been getting out much. The earth is healing.

Only a month after we stopped driving, air quality has improved dramatically, according to ISU Associate Professor of Geology Dr. Catherine O’Reilly. NASA satellite images are showing less pollution in big cities, and in some countries, children are seeing a blue sky for the first time in their lives.

“The air is cleaner. It’s incredible. It’s like the earth is getting a bit of a breather right now,” O’Reilly said. “If we want to figure out how to make this a more permanent part of our lives, we can do this. To keep the blue sky, we don’t need to stay home, we just need to decrease emissions.”

What a way to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day April 22.

Earth Day began in 1970 when then 25-year-activist Denis Hayes led a “teach-in” on college campuses across the country. The event drew nearly 20 million participants, 10 percent of the country’s population at the time. The first Earth Day is credited with launching today’s environmental movement.

There is reason to celebrate the event this year because nature is indeed bouncing back.

Sightings of a coyote strolling down Chicago’s Michigan Avenue and animals more freely roaming in national parks are reminders that humans have a lot of impact, according to ISU’s Office of Sustainability Director Elisabeth Reed.

“It certainly is opening our eyes. We’re seeing an example in just a month of the impact of not traveling,” Reed said, noting humans are benefitting too. “Even as some things can feel hectic with e-learning and Zoom meetings, it’s also a great time for us to pause. The treadmill has stopped all of a sudden.”

Although campus events to celebrate Earth Day have been cancelled, the call to protect the planet by living more sustainably continues. Following are some tips from the Office of Sustainability for what we can all do from our homes to protect the planet.

  • Even though many grocery stores have temporarily banned reusable bags, you don’t have to use plastic. In fact, many studies have found that the virus stays on plastic up to three days. Instead, place grocery items into your cart and bag them in your trunk in the parking lot.
  • Reduce paper towel use by using a wash cloth and washing it out in the evening.
  • Shop local markets, including from local farmers and bakeries.
  • With an increase in baking and cooking, we are throwing out a lot of food scraps. In landfills, food waste doesn’t easily break down and is responsible for a significant portion of methane emissions. Use this time to start composting. Even if you live in an apartment, you can compost your food scrap by vermicomposting.
  • If you have the time and space, start a garden.
  • With the whole family plugged in, you’re using a lot of energy. Shut down electronics and other media when not in use, and turn off the lights.
  • Read environmentally themed books to learn more about the issues/concerns facing our planet. Get ready to emerge from this pandemic with a fresh perspective and a renewed energy to make positive changes in your life and help your community become more sustainable.