Warm weather is back, and at least here in Minnesota, we are remembering we are still alive.
Last weekend, my preschoolers and I couldn’t help but spend all day enjoying the weather. Although the morning was still chilly, with frost on the newly green grass, the temperature quickly warmed up to more than 20C (68F) in the afternoon, the best days of spring here so far.
The whole time we were outside, I was keenly aware of the profound luxury that fresh air and freedom in nature are these days, but the thing that struck me most was the sky.
Looking straight up, the sky here was a remarkable shade of dark blue, almost Pantone ultraviolet. In my best meteorological opinion, this breathtaking colour was due to a combination of a high pressure system overhead on a sunny spring day mixed with the effects of this pandemic: fewer clouds due to a 90% reduction of airplanes in the sky and a sharp drop in air pollution from the shuttering of factories and freeways. As I researched a little further, my suspicion was confirmed: bluer skies aren’t just happening here in Minnesota, they’re happening all around the world.
Airplane contrails create temporary high-level cirrus clouds, which on balance sharply warm the planet by allowing sunlight through to the Earth’s surface, but blocking heat from escaping back out into space. It’s a much greater warming effect than the greenhouse gases airplanes emit from burning jet fuel. And right now, these clouds are almost entirely absent.
But probably the biggest factor is the sharp drop-off in air pollution, which creates a palpably thick omnipresent haze in almost every major city worldwide. Air pollution is one of the leading causes of death in nearly every country, and in low-income countries, it’s the leading killer. These blue skies are literally life-saving.
Still, we shouldn’t be cheering this pandemic, even if it’s giving us cleaner skies. Wishing for one form of death to save us from another form of death is a false choice, and we don’t have to make it. Instead, we should take this moment to remember that our lives are a gift, and that a better world is possible.