A Corona Virus / Earth Day 50 Reboot

By Eric Swenson, Executive Director, Hempstead Harbor Protection Committee

Fifty years ago, as part of the first Earth Day, I and fellow students tied ropes to a VW Beetle and pulled it from Locust Valley village to the high school.  I guess we wanted to show that you didn’t need to use polluting fossil fuels. Classes were suspended for the day and environmental workshops were held instead. It was an event that rebooted the nation and now protecting the environment is a multi-billion dollar industry. It was partly why I am doing what I do today.

As we reflect on that monumental anniversary, we are now faced with another event that is rebooting our society – the Covid-19 pandemic.  Ironically, the worldwide shut down of nonessential businesses has also cleaned our skies and waters just in time for this event. Smog has cleared over northern Inda, China, and even the US. In Venice, you can now see to the bottom of canals. Without humans to bother them, pandas in the Hong Kong zoo have mated for the first time in 10 years. Nature has a chance to breathe again, at least temporarily. Lesson #1: nature will heal itself if we give it a chance.

Just as society learned a good lesson from that first Earth Day, let’s turn the mandated pause of the pandemic into a new beginning.

Just look at how fast this virus spread around the globe.  In a few short months, it has spread to virtually the entire planet and as of April 13th, 1.8 million people have been infected and over 114,000 have died. Lesson #2: what we do to our environment here soon impacts the entire planet. 

Excess fertilizer can runoff into stormdrains and into Hempstead Harbor and cause algae blooms.  Do you really need to fertilize? Cornell Cooperative Extension (the experts) say that if you leave your grass clippings on the lawn, there is no need to fertilize an established lawn.  After all, grass has existed for millions of years before the advent of commercial fertilizer.  Do you really need those “flushable wipes” that never should be flused anyway?  Humans survived for hundreds of thousands of years before their advent. You can too.

We’ve suddenly become acquainted with Zoom and other teleconference programs where we can now meet and talk without every attendee getting into fossil fuel-guzzlers to sit around a table to do the same thing.  Let’s use that as much as we can.  It will give us more free time to tend to our organic vegetable gardens that will also save us trips to the supermarket and, as a bonus, give us a little immune-boosting Vitamin D while we get some exercise in the sunshine.

Being confined at home has brought many of us out on long walks.  Keep it up. Walk down by the water. The Town of North Hempstead recently expanded its harbor trail. There is also a nice new trail from the middle of Roslyn village on the east side of the harbor. Reconnect with nature.  We’ve also had more time to read. Keep that up too.  

If nothing else, the rapid spread of this virus should bring home the need for combating climate change.  CO2 spreads just as quickly and is causing severe weather changes, warming our waters, and causing sea level rise.  Lesson #3: yust as this virus is only contained when every one of us practices social distancing and temporarily shelters in place, combating climate change requires all of us to do our part – it is not simply government’s job, or industry’s job.  In the spirit of the first Earth Day, let’s make a new commitment to do our part for the Earth.

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