An ornithologist and conservationist shares how the coronavirus pandemic's effects on his ability to breathe has echoed the disproportionate effects of climate change on certain communities
How COVID-19 and Climate Change Affect Breathing
Published: August 2, 2021
Drew Lanham: As long as I have breath, am able to inhale and exhale, I’m hopeful. There are certain assumptions that we have that our ins and outs, our inhalations and our exhalations, just come to us and the past year has proven otherwise.
COVID has impacted so many with illness and killed over 600,000 just in this country alone. That COVID insidiously impacts one’s lungs, creates these sticky-surfaced, clogged, mucus-filled organs that betray us.
And so COVID has given us reasons to appreciate each breath. I can remember in the early days of COVID, after hearing about the pathology of the disease, of mucus suffocating people, that each morning when I would wake up, I’d take the deepest breath possible just to make sure that I could.
And climate change creating chronic breathing conditions, lung disease, which often visits people of color, children of color much greater than it does white children. That it’s such a big concept: climate change, the Earth warming. As far away as it seems, it’s our next breath.
Part of the solution ultimately is more green, to have more tree canopies that breathe. One of the only ways for me to regain that breath is to come out in wildness, where there’s water, where there are woods.
We can do that as birders, as birdwatchers, whatever hue we are, to understand these connections. Looking skyward to birds doesn’t mean that you can’t look outward to better. And that’s why places like this are so important because I come out here and I think of birds carrying me beyond everything that was bad, at least for a while. I hear birdsong, this northern mockingbird just in this aria around us, and a red-bellied woodpecker, and I smile. And when I smile, the breath comes more easily. And that’s what I get in these wild spaces—the unlimited lung capacity, the unlimited “me” capacity. Just to be.
Produced by: Ari Daniel
Production Assistance: Christina Monnen
samfk360 / freesound / CC0 1.0
TRP / freesound / CC0 1.0
© WGBH Educational Foundation 2021