What the COVID-19 pandemic taught us about climate change; how to help save the environment

CHICAGO (WLS) -- ABC7 Chicago is taking a look at how people in the Chicago area can help save the environment, starting with what we learned from the pandemic shutdowns.

Meteorologist Cheryl Scott looks at how we can build a better Chicago by working to improve our climate.

The pandemic changed the way we move, the way we live and the way we work. It also changed our environment. Thanks to COVID-19 shutdowns, roads were empty and factories shut down, meaning less people were out and about.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, air pollution in the U.S. dropped significantly from 2019 to 2020. New climate data shows there was less particulate matter, nitrogen and carbon in the atmosphere.

We saw smog disappear from communities, not only in Chicago but also across the world. However, experts say we need to do more now.

"We all changed our behavior pretty severely and you couldn't even measure; didn't make a dent in the carbon pollution problem," said David Archer with the department of geophysical sciences at the University of Chicago.

Experts said rising carbon dioxide concentrations are causing the planet to heat up at an accelerated rate, resulting in bizarre climate changes like warmer winters and more frequent natural disasters -- including wild fires and hurricanes.

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"CO2 comes from a lot more than just transportation," Archer said. "CO2 comes from electricity, the food we eat, everything we do generates a carbon footprint."

But, experts said the pandemic showed us that we may be able to mitigate harm to our communities.

"We all learned that our behavior is more flexible than we normally think," said Archer added.

So, what's the solution? Researchers said it's replacing fossil fuels for power with carbon neutral power sources, like wind and solar.

That's where organizations like Faith in Place come in, with programs like "Green Teams." They teach Chicagoans how to make small steps that lead to a big impact.

"We're working on a small level with houses of worship to figure out which lightbulbs will help them save money, all the way to the macro level where we're working to pass climate legislation that will help us reduce emissions in the long run," said Elena Canler, deputy director for Faith in Place.

The Green Teams work in houses of worship to help provide education and training for a greener communities. Stone Temple Baptist Church in North Lawndale is a partner. The church started with energy efficient light bulbs and is slowly tackling larger projects.

'Right now we're assessing our rooftop to have solar, because it's important to conserved energy in all kinds of ways help out with the climate right," said Pastor ReShorna Fitzpatrick with Stone Temple Baptist Church.

There's even a community garden to teach the neighborhood about sustainable food, how they can save money, how they can conserve energy and how they can help the environment.

"So, as a leader in the community you want to lead people to do the right thing," Fitzpatrick added.
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