• The Lake News Magazine

2020's Disastrous Effect on The Environment

Crimson embers tyrannize the Colorado skies as billowing smoke clouds gust into the Front Range. Coloradans across Summit and Eagle County are confronted with the horrifying hues of the skies as wildfires threaten their communities. Fires raging across the United States cause air quality to deteriorate, threatening millions of Americans who suffer from respiratory conditions. Discarded masks continue to be thrown away daily and now inhabit the oceans and coastlines, further harming marine life. Over the course of the pandemic, environments and ecosystems worldwide have been put at risk like never before.

In Colorado, as of November 2020, there are currently 15 active wildfires, the most well known being the Calwood, Williams Fork, and Cameron Peak fires. Cities in Northern Colorado including Boulder, Loveland, and Fort Collins are evacuating civilians from their homes on account of fire risk and toxic fumes. Countless homes have been threatened, forcing people to leave their belongings behind to seek safer refuge.

The Lake reached out to Steve Lipsher, a public information officer for Summit Fire and EMS in Summit County, Colorado. He explained how current wildfires spread and how they were created.

“90 percent of wildfires are typically human caused. That's not to say that they are intentionally human caused. The other 10 percent of the fires that we see are natural causes and that's typically going to be lightning that causes those,” Lipsher said.

Lipsher continued on to differentiate the two types of burns: healthy and harmful.

When fires burn with a much higher intensity or, what we call in layman's terms an angry fire, angry fires burn hot. They will incinerate an entire forest. A good fire would be a naturally occurring, low intensity fire [that] doesn't do any damage.”

Lipsher was then asked to share his initial reaction to the recurring apocalyptic skies.

“I think that the skies, the sun sets and the sun rises, are spectacular. I like the colors in the light the fires create. Of course, I also think that wildfires themselves are sort of savagely beautiful. While we don't want wildfires burning in our state, there is something about them that, I think, is visually spectacular.”

Many people have had no choice but to depart from their homes and belongings due to the threats of the fires. Under any circumstance, getting ready to evacuate can be a frantic and difficult process.

“What happens typically, is if you get too short notice, people grab the wrong stuff.” Lipsher said.

Returning back home after a fire is a devastating confrontation on the magnitude of destruction the fires have caused.

“When you go back after a fire and somebody has lost a home and you see the look of bewilderment because they don't even know where to begin in terms of rebuilding [their] life [when they’ve] lost everything.”

Air contamination from the wildfires has not been the only thing destroying the environment lately. The rise of mask pollution has also been a contributing factor of harming the Earth. In order to enter most public facilities, patrons are required to wear a mask within the premises. Many civilians have sewn their own masks or have bought reusable ones from the store, though others choose to wear disposable ones. Oftentimes disposable masks are provided when entering school or work places. Public buildings have posted signs on doors or sidewalks stating “Masks are required for entry” and businesses have the right to refuse service to anyone not wearing a face covering.

Unfortunately, the increase in mask wearing has put the ocean and marine life at a greater risk of endangerment. Masks have made their way into the oceans, littering streets and covering beach landscapes. The straps of masks get tangled in animals’ legs and around their necks. Plastic pollution is expected to triple by 2040 according to the United Nations, and the irresponsible disposal of face masks has certainly not eased the environmental burden.

Factory pollution has increased immensely due to the demand of manufactured face masks, offsetting the improved air quality that was seen in the early stages of the pandemic when restrictions were tighter.

As factories pushed to make up for lost time, pollution returned in early May to pre-coronavirus levels, and in some places surpassed them for a short time,” says National Geographic.

The impact of lockdowns on the environment were reversed before any long term changes were made.

Despite this, COVID-19 has had its ways of benefiting our atmosphere. According to the BBC, carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide emissions have decreased over the course of the pandemic.

Restrictions on international travel have decreased carbon emissions from airplanes.

“Globally, aviation produced 2.4 percent of total CO2 emissions in 2018,” says the Environmental and Energy Study Institute.

Climate change is one of the biggest obstacles facing modern society, and like so many things today, it is constantly evolving. This has been exemplified in the past nine months with the uprise of wildfires that have plagued our country, as well as the new mass production of masks further damaging air quality and marine life. Although it seems that the chances of our environment recovering are low, there are still opportunities to help change our past actions regarding climate change. The environment is resilient and so are its inhabitants; now more than ever, it is imperative to adapt to the turbulence of climate change if we ever hope to see a better tomorrow.

Stella Abernethy | Sarah Hesser | Bridget Ronning

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