Editor’s Note: In honor of Earth Day 2020, we’re taking a look at how we can all benefit the planet once the travel restrictions of Covid-19 are lifted. We’re all passionate about the world’s oceans, but there’s so much more we can do to protect them.
As divers, and as a community, we’re no strangers to travel.
Constantly hopping from one place to the next, travel is part and parcel of many people’s dive habit. All this travel, combined with the mobility needs of the rest of the human population has taken a dramatic toll on the Earth’s ecological systems, many of which are beginning to show symptoms of strain through climate change and other barometers of planetary health.
The pandemic has put an abrupt stop to all of that. It turns out that when whole countries abruptly stay home en masse and stop burning fossil fuels, it benefits the Earth in a big way.
According to a BBC report, after China shut down in January and February following their outbreak there was a huge boost to air quality. Specifically, the report points to a study conducted by the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA) that determined that China’s carbon dioxide emissions have reduced by 25% over the last few months. For a country of 1.4 billion people, 25% of carbon dioxide emissions is a really big deal.
Similarly, CREA found that under India’s strict lockdown the country saw its “lowest average level of nitrogen dioxide pollution ever recorded in the spring season, in urban areas with monitoring.”
In both cases, CREA determined that for these positive trends to continue, massive divestment from fossil fuels must continue in the future once we’ve merged from the worst of the outbreak. “To avoid pollution levels bouncing back as the economy turns a corner and the coronavirus crisis passes,” the report says, “a shift from the current highly fossil fuel dependent economy to clean energy based systems has to be adopted.”
By all measures, these are positive signs and good indicators for the future—if, in fact, humans transition away from their reliance on fossil fuels.
For divers specifically, the intense carbon load delivers a double whammy of negative consequences: the air pollution causes respiratory illness and a host of other health problems, but it also increases ocean acidification and warming, causing coral bleaching and mass ecological decline in the world’s oceans and seas.
But aside from pandemic-caused macro-economic trends, what can you—an everyday diver and consumer—do to stem the tide of air pollution? A study published by the Lund University Centre for Sustainability Studies (LUCSUS) found that there are three essential things you can do to lower your carbon footprint (but you might not like them): reduce meat consumption and cut air and car travel.
Kimberly Nicholas, a sustainability researcher at LUCSUS, told the BBC that the single biggest thing that humans can do is to stop flying so much. “By far, the biggest action we can take is to stop flying or to fly less. One round-trip flight from New York to London is the equivalent of about two years of eating meat [in terms of personal carbon footprint].”
That said, it’s fairly unrealistic to expect all humans to stop flying once the tide of Covid-19 recedes. That doesn’t mean we can’t learn lessons along the way and mitigate our environmental impacts.
At Huish Outdoors, we’ve introduced the #wedivelocal campaign to encourage divers and explorers to skip the flights and instead explore the marine habitats in their own neck of the woods. But if flying is a necessity—as it will likely be for many of us in the future—there are some best practices you can adopt to lessen your impact and make more ethical choices.
The Center for Responsible Travel (CREST), says that above all else, it’s important to make our travel count and take mitigating steps whenever possible. To promote responsible tourism and help local communities thrive and sustain their cultural resources and biodiversity, CREST offers the following guidelines for air travel:
- Explore eco-friendly transportation– Are low-carbon or public transportation options available, such as trains or buses?
- When traveling short distances, try not to fly. When flying, choose direct flights when possible, on larger planes and/or newer, more fuel efficient fleets
- “Offset” the carbon emissions from your flights to mitigate your carbon footprint
- Choose “green” airports, like SeattleTacoma International, Baltimore/Washington International, and San Francisco International, which are taking steps to be more sustainable
Moving forward, many of us are likely to jump headfirst back into travel, adventure and exploration. It’s what brings us together as a community. But in the future, how will you combat climate change? What actions will you take to offset your carbon footprint? What hacks will you adopt to make your dive habit more eco-friendly?
We know this is an ongoing discussion, but we are excited to help lead the way toward a more sustainable travel/diving future. Let us know what steps you’ll take in the comments section. We can’t wait to hear from you and partner to build a better future.