On May 6, 2020

Pandemic cleansing the atmosphere?

By Royal Barnard

My friend, Fred Rinaldi, living in California, woke up my senses early in the “lockdown” period with a Facebook post noting that the smog had disappeared in Los Angeles. I immediately thought about the possibility that the earth was getting a much needed cleansing. A breath of fresh air, if you will.

In a similar report a press photo which was submitted from Punjab, India, revealed a clear view of the Himalayan mountains 120 miles away, previously choked in pollution. The captions noted that no one under 30 years old had ever seen these mountains before.

To help me understand if these reported cleansings meant anything important I contacted international climate expert Dr. Alan K. Betts of Pittsford to chat about it. It was soon clear that the conversation couldn’t last long trying to imagine a few months or a year of reduced human activity changing the planet. Dr. Betts reminded me that nature doesn’t work that way.

Decades ago, he pointed out, that scientists typically needed at least 30 years of data to confirm measured climate change. In recent years Dr. Betts has collected data revealing change in periods of 10 years, or even less. He noted that our climate is changing much more quickly than we ever expected… but not so quick as to have this current “cleansing” make a viable difference long-term.

As we observe the convoluted travels of the Covid-19 virus we are reminded that disease is little different than weather in its evolution or its behavior. Viruses and weather exist on one side of the duality of existence over which we have no real control. The other side of existence is the “created world” which consists of all our manmade systems and materials that we think we understand and that we can control.

My brilliant hope that a temporarily cleaner planet might create some significant change for the future was a dream and I am crushed.

Dr. Betts concluded that what counts at the moment is how we react as individuals, governments and humanity to the truth. The undeniable evidence which shows who is responsible for pollution.

We are responsible. Whether by living unsustainable lives, condoning bad industry, supporting corrupt politicians or continuing to drink the Kool-Aid of deception and denial — we have let this happen.

Whether if this “cleansing” event documents the question of global warming is not quite so clear, but possible. The current lockdown period is not expected to last long enough to collect sufficient data for any decision on that before we once again return to a gray planet.

Dr. Betts could not suggest that Vermont is any better or worse off in terms of the future than other places. Everyone’s future, he reminds us, is up to us. If we plan that “any man” can eliminate problems outside the “created world” we are wrong. Beware of promises.

He believes that in this current challenge we have a wonderful moment of hope that we might awaken ourselves as a civilization to what we must do if we are to leave a sustainable place behind us. Time is racing. We must not ignore the moment.

Dr. Alan K. Betts of Atmospheric Research in Pittsford, Vermont, is a Fellow of the American Geophysical Union, the American Meteorological Society, the Royal Meteorological Society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and a past-president of the Vermont Academy of Science and Engineering. He has also authored over 175 reviewed papers.

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