By E. Jennifer Esses, M.D., FACOG
I have to admit before this year, I really didn’t give “Earth Day” too much thought. Sure, I love the beach, the outdoors and nature as much as anyone who lives in our area. And I want to continue to enjoy all the beauty our Emerald Coast has to offer for generations to come. However, true introspection of how all of creation is intimately connected has taken on new meaning in the past few months.
This year is very different. All would agree 2020 has seen unprecedented events world- wide. Corona virus has changed our daily lives in ways that most of us have never experienced. What is interesting, however, is not only how this pandemic is affecting human behaviors, but also the effect it has had globally on the environment. It isn’t uncommon at all for natural disasters to affect human behavior. After Hurricane Michael, our entire community experienced significant ripple effects to the economy and livelihood. Lives were uprooted in a moment, and neighboring communities responded with compassion. The difference between what we are seeing with Corona virus and other natural disasters, is that all the changes we are making now are voluntary. Rather than humans changing their behavior because of nature, it has been reversed. Humans changing their behavior has directly impacted the Earth. And guess what? That is truly what Earth day is all about. Let me provide some specific examples.
The nitrogen dioxide emissions and production of greenhouse gasses over China have dropped over 25% since the Corona virus pandemic began significantly reducing air pollution. This can also be seen in the smog over Los Angeles and all of Northern California. Historical data from the EPA suggests that this may be the longest stretch of clean air there since 1980. Beirut Lebanon, a city known for high levels of pollution, has also shown much clearer skies and improved air quality. Similarly, it is said that inhabitants in India can see Mt. Everest and the peaks of the Himalayan mountains which haven’t been visible for thirty years due to pollution.
The same improved air quality has also been demonstrated in Italy. With decreased commuting and transportation, the canals of Venice are crystal clear again and fish are seen swimming there. Residents cannot remember a time when this was true. Although these are potentially temporary outcomes, they are significant, and should be noted.
In India, the lack of human pollution and intrusion has allowed Olive Ridley Turtles to nest undisturbed. Last year in 2019, they did not come to this beach at all. But now in 2020, with Corona virus limiting human activities, over 70,000 turtles came en masse to lay their eggs. Experts predict the same might be true here in the southern United states this year. The first Leatherback turtle has already nested on Hutchinson Island which is the earliest nesting recorded in Florida to date.
Out west in our National Parks, rangers report more visible wildlife than they can remember. Some estimate the visible bear population has quadrupled in Yosemite; without people, they are coming out of the shadows along with other wildlife enjoying the new freedom to roam.
Observing these phenomenon, how should we interpret what we see? The Earth and the pace of our lives are intricately connected. Our voluntary captivity in our homes during this time of social distancing has caused the pace of life to markedly slow down. Families are spending more quality time together. Churches and individuals have stretched themselves to think outside the traditional confines of four walls to help others. There is a genuine returning of people to the Lord worldwide and distractions have been removed to allow our faith to deepen and mature. In essence, the Earth has been given a Sabbath.
Prioritizing rest is important; in fact God commanded it. Exodus 20:6, “Remember the Sabbath by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is Sabbath to the Lord your God.” Also read Leviticus chapter 25. Levitcus 25: sabbath year. God also commanded that the land be allowed to have a sabbath rest every seven years.
And truthfully, humans and the land are far more productive when allowed periods of rest. Farmers know this; you must allow your fields a fallow year to be more productive. The Bible assures us you will accomplish more in six days, with one day devoted to your family, others, and the Lord than you can accomplish in seven days working at full steam. There was a time when the people of Israel for generations did not honor this command, among many others. In fact, 2nd Chronicles tells us they neglected the Sabbath for 490 years. In their disobedience to Him, the Lord allowed them to be taken to Babylon into captivity. So, if you do the math, that is 70 years of missed Sabbaths owed to the land.
“(But if you will not listen to me and carry out all these commands, and if you reject my decrees and abhor my laws and fail to carry out all my commands and so violate my covenant)…Then the land will enjoy its sabbath years all the time that it lies desolate and you are in the country of your enemies; then the land will rest and enjoy its sabbaths. All the time that it lies desolate, the land will have the rest it did not have during the sabbaths you lived in it.” (Leviticus 26:34-35)
Guess how many years Israel was in captivity? If you guessed 70, you guessed correctly. As the writer of 2nd Chronicles tells us, “The land finally enjoyed its Sabbath rest, lying desolate until the 70 years were fulfilled.” (2 Chron. 36:21) The bill came due and the captivity wasn’t lifted until it was paid in full. In the book by Pastor Robert Morris, “Take the Day Off,” he makes the case that the people of Israel may have wrongly assumed God wasn’t serious about all of this, because they had gotten away with it for so long. Similarly, we make the same assumption about our lives and the Earth around us until the bill is due and demands to be paid.
Perhaps we should choose to take notice during our confinement what God is trying to teach us by drawing us closer to Himself and allowing the Earth to heal. And when life returns to a more “normal” pace, as we are allowed to come out of our voluntary captivity, I pray as a nation we choose to remember the value of obedience to the Lord and His Sabbath. The health of the Earth and our own lives are directly connected both physically and spiritually. Corona virus has revealed that to us.
Dr E. Jennifer Esses, OB/GYN, has been in private practice in Okaloosa/Walton Counties since 2001. She has delivered well over 3,000 babies in her career. Prior to private practice, she served active duty in the U.S. Air Force stationed at Eglin AFB as the Eglin OB/GYN Flight Commander. She is currently affiliated with Sacred Heart Hospital on the Emerald Coast and delivers at ‘The Family Birth Place.’ She loves to run and meditate on God’s word. Dr. Esses says her faith keeps her running and she keeps running because of her faith. You can read her blog, “Running on Faith,” at runningonfaith-beachstork.blogspot.com.