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While the lives of so many Kansans have been upended by the spread of the new coronavirus, we have only to look out our windows to see reassuring signs that the natural world around us continues on its inevitable course.


The chilly nights and occasionally frigid days of March have been replaced by the cool evenings and increasingly sunny days of April. Spring has taken hold, with trees and lawns coming back to life after their winter slumber.


The planet wakes up and flourishes, without any help from the rest of us sheltering in our homes.


Today is Earth Day, believe it or not, and a fine opportunity to ponder the importance of the planet on which all of us live. It’s also an opportunity to think about how the absence of people in cars and factories has helped air pollution plummet in crowded cities around the world.


The economic growth that we hold as so important to the progress of society can have devastating environmental effects. We know this, we have known this for decades, and yet the emissions continue unabated. Even the threat of global climate change, an existential crisis facing all of humanity, has not persuaded many of us to change our behaviors.


A tiny virus, however, has posed a more immediate threat. And somehow, that’s easier to deal with. The human brain is ill-equipped to consider long spans, but it is finely attuned to potential plagues. When presented by a virus that will almost certainly kill fewer people than decades of a warming climate, we somehow find the wherewithal to completely alter our daily lives.


The threat of the coronavirus will eventually pass. We will either have a vaccine or enough people will be exposed that the crisis will ebb. But we will still be living on this magnificent planet, the only one that we will ever have. As we return to our jobs and lives, the threat to its health will return, more virulent than ever.


These past weeks have shown that we have the power to change things. When we can grasp the consequences, we can change our behavior. It shouldn’t take a virus to teach us all that lesson.


The Earth stands ready to renew itself. We can talk about protecting the planet all we want, but perhaps all it wants is for us to get out of the way.