With all the devastating health and economic impacts the COVID-19 pandemic has brought (which I do not wish to minimize), it’s a relief to hear about one positive effect the pandemic is having: In some ways, the pandemic has been good for the environment.
Less traffic, grounded airplanes, and decreased production in factories have improved the air quality in many places. In India, for example, people are seeing mountain ranges in the distance they haven’t seen in decades due to pollution. Satellite imagery over China shows reductions in nitrous oxide and carbon monoxide being pumped into the air. Cities such as Rome, London, Los Angeles, and New York are also reporting improved air quality.
I’m aware there have also been environmental setbacks. For example, cities report the collection of more garbage (including personal protective equipment like disposable masks).
I nevertheless remain encouraged by the news of improved air quality. Again, I recognize COVID-19 has resulted in lost jobs, economic chaos, illness, and death, and I do not downplay those. But I do wonder whether the pandemic is giving humanity a little preview of how, when it comes to the environment, things could be better.
As a Christian, I believe God calls me to care for his creation. It is among the first tasks he gives to the first humans in the first garden. And it’s a recurring theme in the Bible. In addition to mandating a weekly sabbath rest, God also commanded his people to give creation a Sabbath rest: “In the seventh year the land is to have a year of sabbath rest… Do not sow your fields or prune your vineyards. Do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the grapes of your untended vines.” God promised that if his people obeyed this command, their land would produce enough in the sixth year to provide for them through the seventh year and beyond. God designed creation so that when we care for it, he will direct it to care for us. I wonder if COVID-19 is forcing us to give the land and sky an overdue sabbath rest.
And that leads me to wonder whether instead of trying to go back to normal, we can investigate ways to create a “new normal” in which we can restore jobs and improve the economy while also carefully tending the land and keeping the air clean. Can leaders in government, industry, agriculture, and business find innovative and profitable ways to run things both so people can work and so creation is respected? I ask myself where in everyday life I can recognize and change my greedy and consumeristic tendencies that harm creation. Can I buy a bit less? Can I reuse things more? Can I travel fewer miles? Can I conserve energy?
In the middle of the pain of the pandemic, there has been an unexpected blessing of the environment faring better than six months ago. Can we receive that as a fresh invitation from God to care for creation? I for one would like the air we breathe to not go back to what we called normal prior to COVID-19.
I wrote this article for Perspectives column
in this week’s Rock Valley Bee.