Ask Eartha: Shutdown habits that help protect the environment |

Ask Eartha: Shutdown habits that help protect the environment

Lisa Hueneke
Ask Eartha
A cyclist rides the Blue River recpath between Breckenridge and Frisco. As the community continues to reopen after the shutdown, the High Country Conservation Center hopes people will keep some of their environmentally friendly habits, like biking rather than driving.
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Dear Eartha,
During the COVID-19 lockdown, I saw stories about clearer skies, cleaner waterways and our planet getting a break. How do we get back to normal without sacrificing these benefits? 

As the pandemic continues, we all have the natural desire for things to get “back to normal.” But in our rush to recover and get back to something resembling our former lives, we might have lost the important insights and habits we gained during lockdown — habits that were not only better for us but better for our planet. Here are three personal habits we all can incorporate into our new normal:

Drive less

Stay-at-home orders caused once busy, congested roads to empty. Photos of clearer skies in some of the world’s most polluted cities offered a little hope that the absence of human activity was at least doing some good. The walk to the post office or the bike ride to the store, which started out as a way to get out of the house, turned into a welcomed endeavor. Our planet took a breath. However, it was a quick one. Just last weekend, 155,000 cars passed through the Eisenhower Tunnel from Friday to Sunday — a near record number.

According to the Summit Community Climate Action Plan, transportation in Summit County accounts for about 30% of our emissions. Our transportation system needs to change, and change is hard. It’s been easy to tell ourselves that once again we have little time to walk, bike or coordinate anything else. Yet it’s more important than ever to seize this opportunity to change our driving habits. Walking or biking, grouping your trips, not idling your vehicle, taking the bus and carpooling with those in your safe COVID crew are all ways we can begin to carry forth for the better.

Shop consciously

“We are a full world on a small planet,” states physicist Rob Davies during his climate talk “Disruption” in January. “We are consuming at a rate (of) 170% or 1.7 planets. The problem with this is that we only have one.”

Davies highlights that the “normal” we are getting back to is scientifically impossible to maintain much longer. And for many of us, this pandemic has helped us rethink our expectations and habits as consumers.

We have been forced to identify what’s essential and what’s not. We unearthed useful items from dusty corners and dug forgotten clothing from the back of our closets. As we went online to shop, we were forced to practice patience when the two-day shipping — or even the availability of any given item — was no longer guaranteed. And those who supply, deliver and stock the items that meet our basic needs were perhaps truly appreciated for the first time.

Our expectation and demand for new, convenient, fast and inexpensive stuff does not make us happier. Instead, let’s focus our consumer habits on essentials and making conscious buying decisions. That’s where the real impact, on both people and resources, lies.

Keep learning

It’s not about learning a new language or writing that book during this pandemic. (Though, props to you if you have!) Rather, we’ve all learned new, perhaps more sustainable, ways of living. It’s mastering technology that better connects us with family and friends and learning new life skills such as fixing, baking or sewing.

We’ve been given the opportunity to learn new things about ourselves, inequalities within our society and that, even in an emergency, we are still capable of extraordinary things. Let’s keep learning new things that help us adapt, change and be all the better for it.

The hardships of this crisis cannot and should not be diminished — nor should the opportunities to build resiliency. By reimagining the way we do things, and maybe simply maintaining some of the new habits we developed over the past few months, we stand to make great gains for our planet. While it can be hard to see the tangible crisis climate change is to our future, our emergency alert cannot be turned off.

“Ask Eartha Steward” is written by the staff at the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation. Submit questions to Eartha at

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