New York (CBS) - Today (4/22) marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, and this year's theme is "Climate Action." While the COVID-19 pandemic has forced Earth Day activities to go digital, there are plenty of virtual and tangible things you can do from home.
With half the world's population staying at home, climate experts say stay-at-home orders have already had a positive effect on the environment. "This is wonderful. Places like New York, Los Angeles, Denver, all cities around the world are seeing the best air quality they've seen in a long, long time," said Jeff Berardelli, CBS News Meteorologist and Climate Specialist.
The 50th anniversary of Earth Day comes as global carbon dioxide emissions are expected to fall significantly. Rob Jackson, the chair of the Global Carbon Project, tells CBS News it's likely this year will be the largest drop in carbon dioxide emissions since the Great Depression and World War II.
Waterways are clearer in many areas, and animal sightings are up, including increased black bear sightings by rangers in California's Yosemite National Park, which is closed to visitors. "They like to use these green spaces or corridors that we have through here," one ranger said during a Facebook live stream. "But now that there are no people, the bears are literally just walking down the road to get to where they need to go, which is kind of cool to see."
Even rare wildflowers and a declining bee population could benefit as roadside fields aren't cleared as often. "We've probably got about, I should think, probably three weeks' worth of growth that often we wouldn't have had already. And this is such an exciting time of year now too, because now in Britain, you know, all these plants are gearing up with loads of energy to start flowering," said Dr. Trevor Dines, the botanical specialist for Plantlife, a British conservation charity working to save threatened wildflowers and plants. The organization has been campaigning for years for UK councils to reduce the number of times they cut the grass next to country roads, including circulating a petition that's gotten close to 90,000 signatures. "We're noticing that councils are redeploying their services to the frontline of where resources are most needed, and cutting back on the cutting down," Dines said. "And because of that, we're seeing a lot more wildflowers appearing in our parks, gardens and road verges as well."
Organizers say more than a billion people typically participate in Earth Day activities, and while large-scale cleanups won't be happening this year, there are plenty of ways to celebrate the outdoors from inside. Earthday.org has an interactive map with virtual events all over the country - and the world - from teach-ins, to film screenings, to cocktail hours and art exhibits. There is also an Earth Challenge mobile app which crowdsources environmental data.
There are also lots of practical things you can do from your home:
- Consider a no-plastic buy challenge, starting with one item
- Reduce meat and dairy consumption
- Cut back on water use
- Start a backyard compost pile
- Build a birdhouse or feeder
- Make crafts with recycled items
Climate watchers also say to brainstorm about the future. "Think about what you can do once we emerge from this crisis to help the environment," Berardelli said.
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