Shared from the 4/22/2020 The Denver Post eEdition By Sue McMillin Columnist for The Denver Post
￼Brown clouds have lifted, levels of nitric oxide and nitrogen dioxide have measurably shrunk, and public health warnings about poor air quality have declined.
Not just in Denver, but worldwide. You’d think we are finally taking climate change seriously and heeding the theme of this year’s 50th annual Earth Day: climate action.
Instead, our suddenly cleaner air is a byproduct of the global pandemic of COVID-19, a viral respiratory infection that, ironically, may have higher fatality rates in communities with higher levels of air pollution.
It’s hard to not notice that as people cut back on daily commutes, flights were canceled and some industries shuttered, our once hazy cityscapes suddenly cleared and vistas in places like Los Angeles expanded. The visual cues are so obvious it should give us pause as we prepare to resume our routines.
Make no mistake, the air pollution reductions are temporary. Millions of cars will be on the roads again as people return to work and our businesses and industries restart. It may start slowly, but eventually, we will get our daily rhythms back.
But the beat could be a bit different.
We can’t unsee the clearer skies, so let’s incorporate some of the changes we’ve made during the shutdown, such as making fewer trips to the store and for some, perhaps working from home with more regularity.
Recent studies show that about 37% of the workforce can work from home at least some of the time, although that varies by location and industry.
It’s a start, though, and while there are economic challenges in moving people from commercial office space to home-based jobs, they are not insurmountable.
Earlier this year I wrote about Colorado’s poor air quality, especially in Denver and the northern Front Range. One of the statistics cited: Denverites breathed healthy air just 83 days in 2018, or about 23% of the year.
Experts I spoke with then offered ways that everyone can help fight the brown cloud, such as telecommuting when possible or doing all errands in one trip. These are things we’ve recently been practicing. Pledging to continue them and work toward lessening our carbon footprints is a wonderful way to mark this Earth Day and honor those who started the whole thing on April 22, 1970 to push for environmental changes.
One of the instigations for the movement happened a year earlier, in 1969, when photographs of a fire on the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland were widely published. There had been more than a dozen fires on the horribly polluted river, but finally, people saw the problem and demanded change.
The Earth Day teach-in and protests the following year coalesced into the modern environmental movement and led to the adoption over the next decade of the Clean Water, Clean Air and Endangered Species acts.
But it’s been increasingly difficult to sustain and continue the progress made, despite such examples as the Cuyahoga, in which today the water is cleaner than it’s been for 150 years and more than 60 fish species thrive, according to America Rivers, a conservation organization.
The Union of Concerned Scientists has similar positive reports about the Clean Air Act, which it says has cut ground-level ozone by more than 25% and nitrogen dioxide by 46% since 1980. It also reduced the lead content in gasoline, cutting lead air pollution by 92%.
We aren’t always able to immediately see the impacts of our lifestyles, but right now we can. Side-by-side photos of cities showing their usually polluted skies next to the current clear skies were recently published in The Guardian.
Statistics and graphics abound on the internet.
For those in Denver and other Front Range cities, just look out your window. You’re not imagining that the sky is a bit more blue, and you can see a more distant horizon.
We can see, literally see, that we can make a difference.