1Thing: 50th Earth Day amid the pandemic? Not the day we expected

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Not even the most optimistic climate change activist could have predicted that 50 years after the first Earth Day, a barrel of crude oil would cost less than most jumbo packages of toilet paper. 

“The global oil industry is experiencing a shock like no other in its history,” International Energy Agency executive director Fatih Birol told the Wall Street Journal. 

Though a global pandemic is hardly the impetus any environmentalist would want to reduce air pollution, sharply reduced travel means the fresh air is fresher than ever, a bizarre but positive side-effect of the virus outbreak. 

While the numbers are still being crunched across our continent, a Stanford University scientist suggests the coronavirus lockdown in China saved almost 80,000 lives just by keeping auto emissions and industrial particulate out of the air. 

The European Space Agency also notes vanishing nitrogen dioxide pollution over Northern Italy since its lockdown began. 

This health-sparing development of improved air quality and lower industry emissions are among five ways Politico believes the global COVID-19 pandemic will help the environment, along with the intense competitive pressure on the “dirtiest oil,” more impetus on financial institutions to invest in green initiatives, and the opportunity for climate change activists to promote even more fundamental behavior changes once the immediate crisis is over.

But that crisis is also putting environmental concerns on the back burner, raising home energy consumption as so many of us work and learn remotely, lowering corporate profits that might be reinvested in green initiatives, and oh, just consider all the critically-necessary single-use disposable items (wipes, masks, gloves) that are helping us all to flatten the curve. 

Take a deep breath — through a double-layered cotton mask — and maybe take a walk. 

In fact, getting out in the sunshine for a head-clearing solitary stroll or spring yard work might not only reduce some quarantine stress. 

At least one expert says it can take some bite out of flu bugs.

“Research shows that outdoor air is a natural disinfectant,” Dr. Richard Hobday writes in a post at Medium.com. “Fresh air can kill the flu virus and other harmful germs. Equally, sunlight is germicidal and there is now evidence it can kill the flu virus.”

In some European countries, the recommendations to prevent the spread of novel coronavirus have included not only handwashing, avoiding groups, and disinfecting, but also opening the windows frequently to air out indoor surroundings (in Lithuania, it’s advised to do it at least five times a day.)

And as for the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day, many planned celebrations and service events have been cancelled. Others have been modified.

The Clean Air Council’s annual Run For Clean Air in Philadelphia to mark Earth Day has become a virtual run. If you’d like to skip the nightly news April 27, you can attend the council’s free webinar on renewable natural gas.

PennEnvironment takes Bucks County’s Earth Day Celebration online April 22. 

The following evening, April 23, PennEnvironment hosts a free webinar all about solar energy.

In place of in-person rallies and gatherings, PennFuture is sending daily “meaningful actions via email that you can take from the comfort of your own home to protect our planet” as part of its #ActForOurEarthPA Challenge.

Riverbend Environmental Center in Gladwyne hosts an online BioBlitz, inviting hikers and strollers to post their photos “of all the amazing nature you find.” 

You can find plenty of photo ops on the trails at the 23 environmental education centers that comprise the Alliance for Watershed Education of the Delaware River (AWE), all located along a Circuit Trail or a major connecting trail, and on waterways throughout the Delaware River Watershed in Delaware, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. The centers themselves are closed, but many of their trails are wide enough to allow for 6 feet of space between hikers. 

New Jersey and Pennsylvania state parks are open on the same basis — facilities aren’t available but the open spaces are. Counties are setting their own rules for their parks under the shutdown, though they are similar.

To be clear, if you’re sick, stay home. But if your four walls are feeling too close, a daytime walk, run or bike ride are stress busters that — with appropriate social distancing — can at least reconnect you with nature until we can all more freely reconnect with each other.

Happy 50th birthday, Earth Day. Stay well.