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COVID-19 brings cleaner air for Earth Day 50th

Posted at 7:43 PM, Apr 22, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-22 21:43:39-04

COLORADO SPRINGS — "I was in Washington D.C. for the very first Earth Day,” It was a memorable day for Mark Joyous and now on the 50th anniversary of Earth Day it is another memorable year. Not just for the five decades, but because COVID-19 is impacting Earth Day.

Joyous, who founded Earthseeds Project typically participates and presents during Earth Day observances. Because of COVID-19, this year’s events in Colorado Springs are cancelled.

Rather than frame it as a negative, he sees a big picture lesson from COVID-19 that can be applied to other topics. "This is beyond being a quote, 'pandemic,' that's just looking at the health side of it. This is a global event and it effects everybody." He says the global perspective can be applied to other issues, including many related to Earth Day. "I think the big shift here for us is wakening to the fact, we are a global society whether we like it or not. Not saying that's good, bad, right, or wrong. It just is."

The prevention response to COVID-19 is causing environmental changes. "We are seeing cleaner air, we're breathing cleaner air," said University of Colorado, Boulder, Chemistry Professor, Joost de Gouw.

Professor de Gouw also studies air quality with the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences. He is currently looking into emissions from fuels. "Gasoline sales in the U.S. are down by about 50%, so those emissions have gone down." Stay at home orders take a lot of cars off roads.

Air quality testing confirms the changes. Satellites also show it. Professor de Gouw says the view from space showed air clearing over China after coronavirus quarantines went in place. It then happened in Europe. The United States was next with restrictions and air quality improvements again followed.

It brings a sudden research project for Environmental Scientists. "There are effects on our air quality and they're very worthwhile studying. We can learn a lot," said Professor de Gouw. He says the scenario also presents challenges because it happened suddenly. “It isn’t the perfect set of instruments, but it’s what we have at this point.” Typically, a plan is created, and equipment is prepared for scientific studies.

There is also realistic thinking. Rather than thoughts of people giving up cars, de Gouw says this is motivation to continue working towards more environmentally friendly means of transportation and energy production.