While we were all spending more time in our homes, something incredible was happening to our planet. Organizations across the globe have been documenting the changes on earth since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. If you take a moment to reflect on the daily things you suddenly stopped doing that impact our environment, the list adds up fairly quickly: more cars were parked, planes were grounded, production lines slowed, oil consumption decreased, and many more activities ceased in an instant. The outcome? Reduced carbon emissions, nitrogen dioxide and air pollution.
Two organizations run by NASA — Earth Observatory and Air Quality Observations from Space — have been monitoring the levels of air pollution closely. These organizations have published data and images of the changes thus far, with particular data based on nitrogen dioxide. Usually we think of carbon when discussing air pollutants, but nitrogen dioxide is a harmful gas produced from burning fossil fuels and one of the main pollutants monitored from space.
Nitrogen dioxide levels have been decreasing for the last 15 years due to more federal regulations being put in place about the usage of fossil fuels. However, there has not been as sharp of a decline as in the last three months. According to NASA, nitrogen dioxide levels from April 2020 have decreased nearly 40% in the Atlanta, Charlotte and Savannah areas when compared to the average values from the 2015–2019. Before the data gets too boring, the idea is how we can consider some easy changes to make as we enter our “new normal” and continue these positive effects on our planet.
- Carpool. students and faculty may be headed back to their institutions in shifts, with the same crowds each time. Why not start a carpool option with your classmates or better yet, your roommates? Schedules will be more consistent and similar, so maybe it will allow us to carpool more efficiently.
- Bring your lunch. There are a dozen good reasons to bring your own lunch; it’s often healthier, it’s cheaper, but really, it’s one less trip you make leaving and returning to campus. Less burning fossil fuels, less emissions.
- Ditch the single-use plastic. It takes a lot of fossil fuels to make plastics. Unfortunately, we use plastic for most things. New PPE and procedures will likely produce an increased amount of medical plastic waste, so we can do our best to offset that by cutting out single-use habits. Try using reusable sandwich bags, bringing your own silverware and, of course, using a refillable water bottle. There are tons of great reusable products worth looking into and even reusable products you may not have thought about such as shampoo bars, washable make-up remover pads or reusable K-Cups.
- Buy an indoor plant. Indoor plants help eliminate toxins in the air we breathe. There are some easy plants you can add to your home or office that can help clean your air. Some of the easiest to care for are philodendrons, rubber plants, peace lilies and Boston ferns. Not only will they clean the air, they will add to the aesthetic of the room, too.
It may not feel like much, but these small changes can make a big impact over time. As we go back to our routines and production increases, it is our responsibility to be aware of the waste we produce and how it can affect our planet. As health care professionals, we have a different consideration in that inevitably, we produce more waste to maintain the safety and the well-being of our patients and ourselves. With these few minor changes, we can begin to offset some of the environmental impacts and continue the positive changes our planet is displaying right now.
~Ali MacDonald, Georgia ’22