“It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature,” or so the saying goes.  And today, the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day, we seem to be witnessing real-time just how un-nice it is to try to fool Mother Nature.

Indeed, the meshing between sustainability and health has never been in more stark relief than during this time of the COVID-19 pandemic. We’ve always known there’s an inextricable link between the two – but for too long that link has been the sole purview of academics and the foundations who fund them. Now, we are seeing firsthand just how connected our environment is to our public health.

Dramatic changes in our environment seem to be happening overnight as a result of the “lockdown” orders taking place around the globe. While these orders intend to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus, the unintended consequences have been some quick and stunning anecdotal changes to our climate challenges.  Specifically:

  • As a result of stay at home orders –fewer polluting cars and trucks on the road. We can now see Beijing from space for the first time in decades.
  • Dolphins have returned to the once “forever polluted” canals of Venice. The canals are starting to look as quaint and enchanting as some of the paintings of Venice we’ve grown to love.
  • Pollution in and around Los Angeles has dropped significantly – it’s the same from Oakland, CA to New York City.

This all sounds great!

But, as it turns out, we’re trying to fool Mother Nature.  As soon as any “social distancing” is lifted in Beijing, or LA, or NY, it’s entirely likely, even probable, that the pollution and traffic will revert to their old levels. We’ll go back to not being able to see Beijing from space. In Venice, the canals are “cleaner” in part because no watercrafts are working the canals and churning up all the mud, muck and debris that is at the bottom of the canals.  They aren’t necessarily cleaner – they just look that way. When they look cleaner, we can see more of the wildlife that is already living there.

So maybe it’s not so much that we’re fooling Mother Nature –we’re fooling ourselves.

However, we are showing through this pandemic that we can change our human behavior.  Changing our behavior is a huge piece of the climate solution.

To “flatten the curve” for the pandemic, we are following a low-tech solution such as the stay-at-home orders. In many cases, we are seeing this dramatic approach work. We are flattening the curve! But we still have a long way to go…

Over the long-term, if more people work at home and don’t commute to work every morning and evening, we will reduce pollution. The assumption that our pollutions levels will rise again is based on the assumption that we will all just go back to our old ways.  Perhaps the assumption should be that we can change our behavior – not just for this pandemic – but to stop climate change too.

So, when we’re not forced to work at home many will want to work from home. When we can get more and more of the workforce to be productive from home, then we can reduce the climate curve.

Throughout this pandemic, we are seeing that people around the world are willing to change their behavior to save the human race. Stopping climate change will require a similar level of commitment.

What we now know is that we can do it.

This Earth Day the realization is that we can’t fool Mother Nature. But it is pretty cool when Mother Nature shows us we can solve two world-wide challenges through our change in behavior.

Happy Earth Day.