This year marks the 50th anniversary of the first Earth Day. Founded in 1970, and lead by university groups across the nation, including an ambitious University of Pennsylvania, Earth Day is now a global celebration demonstrating support for sustainability and environmental protections. Today, upwards of one billion people across 190 countries participate in Earth Day.
This year’s Earth Day celebration is shaping up to be the lowest emitting one ever. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, our lives, energy use, and transportation have been significantly altered. Apart from select essential employees, most people are working from home, eliminating commuting, work related travel, and office building energy use. Flights are grounded, cars are parked, and industry is shuttered.
TSA and airlines are reporting a whopping 96% decrease in air travel. Because of this, airlines have cut 71% of their capacity. According to global traffic data, personal vehicle travel is down 47% since the pandemic outbreak. These are drops that would have seemed unfathomable just a few months ago.
While this decrease in travel is a huge negative disruption to our economy, it is leading to a decrease in air pollution in cities across the world. In New Delhi, India, particulate pollution dropped 60%, bringing clear skies to the world’s most polluted metropolis. Here in the northeastern U.S., air pollution has declined 30% according to NASA data.
Even with these positive consequences, a quarantine is not the best solution to our emissions problems. As the Kleinman Center noted in an earlier blog post, we might—out of withdrawal or new fears—emit more energy once lockdown measures are lifted, thus undoing any of our current environmental wins.
And this is why practicing energy reduction in our own homes now—in this moment—is a meaningful and enduring way to celebrate Earth Day 2020. As many of us adjust to our home offices, here are some tips for how we can reduce energy use at home and make an effort to lower our energy impact for the long haul:
- Turn off and unplug electronics that aren’t in use. Power down your computers overnight.
- Be conscious of what lights are on in your home. If you aren’t in the room, turn the lights off.
- Run your dishwasher only when it’s full. This helps save water and energy.
- Similarly, only run the washing machine when you have a full load of laundry. And try air drying your clothes.
- Don’t crank the air conditioning or heat. Moving your thermostat down two degrees in winter and up two degrees in the summer can reduce your carbon footprint by 2,000 pounds.
- Use your newly found free time to swap the light bulbs at your house. Switching from incandescent light bulbs to CFLs (compact fluorescent lamps) or LEDs (light emitting diodes) can reduce your carbon footprint by 450 pounds a year.
- Explore options to switch to a renewable source of energy to power your home. In Philadelphia, PECO customers can choose their electricity or natural gas supplier through a program called Customer Choice.
- Give your Netflix and TV a break and crack open a book or tackle a puzzle. Mix in activities that don’t involve a screen!
- Go for a walk and get outside! Throw on your favorite face mask and take a stroll around the neighborhood. The flowers and trees are blooming and a good walk can boost your mood and brighten your day.
While this Earth Day is certainly unlike any other in the past 50 years, there are many things we can do to decrease our energy impact while appreciating the world around us.