Earth Day 2020: How Covid-19 Lockdowns Have Cleaned the Earth


Today, we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. In 1970, millions of Americans protested against the way the earth was being treated for the first time. The first Earth Day launched the modern environmental movement and is recognized today as the planet’s largest civil event.

It’s ironic that as we reflect on this day 50 years ago, remembering and honoring those who spoke up and fought to make Earth a cleaner place, the internet is flooded with stories of pollution decreasing throughout the world, nature rebounding and wild animals freely roaming the streets as most of the world is on lockdown.

Although Covid-19 has come with loss, the mandated lockdowns have given Mother Nature a chance to bounce back and allowed us to see just what the world could be like if we treated the earth with more love and respect. After decades of over pollution, we are finally breathing clean air in some of the dirtiest cities in the world.

NASA’s pollution monitoring satellites have detected significant decreases in nitrogen dioxide all over the world. Nitrogen dioxide is produced by factories, power plants, vehicles, trains and airplanes, heavily polluting the air we breathe, the water we drink and bathe in and the soil our food grows in. It’s directly correlated to asthma and susceptibility to respiratory infections.

Take a look at the photos below showing the difference between the pollution in China prior to the quarantine and during the quarantine. This data was collected by the Tropospheric Monitoring Instrument on ESA’s Sentinel-5 satellite. 

NASA Air Quality Researcher, Fei Liu, stated “This is the first time I have seen such a dramatic drop-off over such a wide area for a specific event.” Liu recalls seeing a drop in nitrogen dioxide over several countries during the economic recession that began in 2008, but the decrease was gradual.

The ESA’s Copernicus network monitors measuring the nitrogen dioxide in Europe have shown levels are down around 55% in Paris and 50% in Rome, Milan and Madrid.

NASA satellite data also showed a significant decrease in air pollution over major metropolitan areas of the Northeast United States lockdowns were put in place. The data was collected by the Ozone Monitoring Instrument on NASAs Aura satellite. The photos below are the satellite views comparing the nitrogen dioxide average of March data between 2015-2019 to the emissions recorded in March 2020. According to NASA, nitrogen dioxide levels are down more than 30% over major metropolitan areas including Washington, DC, New York City, Philadelphia and Boston.

One of the most remarkable stories I’ve read is about the people living in the northern Indian state of Punjab. Since the lockdowns have been in place, they have been able to see the Himalayas from more than 100 miles away for the first time in 30 years. This is a direct result of a less polluted sky in India. 

The air isn’t the only thing clearing up during this time of less traveling and commuting to work. The water across the continents is noticeably cleaner as well. In Venice and surrounding cities, the canals are reported to be “unusually clear” due to the lack of boat traffic and sewage discharge they’re used to by tourists and commuting workers. 

As the elements are clearing up due to the drastic decrease in pollution and the streets are almost clear of vehicles and pedestrians, animals are experiencing a newfound freedom. There have been many reports of unusual sightings of animals from people living in cities all over the world. Some of the stories include seeing hawks and owls nesting in trees of city parks in Los Angeles; a herd of deer walking the streets of Haridwar, India; wild boar roaming around in the center of Barcelona, Spain; mountain goats wreaking havoc in the streets of Llandundo, Wales; hundreds of baby turtles making their way to the water along Brazil’s northeast coast without distractions throwing them off their path; a sleeping mountain lion at the college in Boulder, Colorado; and, raccoons and rats raiding trash cans due to the lack of litter in urban areas.

The tales of animals feeling more comfortable to roam the streets usually overpopulated by people, suggests that, little by little, wildlife is taking back what was once theirs.

I am hopeful that this pandemic opens our eyes to what we could have if we each tried a little harder. If we did what we could to minimize our carbon footprint. If we walked more than we drove, if we stopped using plastics, if we kept our communities clean of litter, if we chose renewable energy sources, if we ate organic fruits and vegetables, if we planted more trees than the paper we consume and if we fought to protect endangered species.

I encourage you to walk outside, take some deep breaths and inhale the clean air. Close your eyes and listen to the birds chirping and the water flowing instead of cars honking. Choose how you are going to make a difference moving forward. Commit to making a change or two. And remember these days.


If you would like some ideas on how you can make a difference, check out the Earth Day Organization’s virtual celebration by watching their live event and joining them for 24 hours of action as they issue a new call to action every hour.