By Natalie Taylor
Like a mother who relishes a break as her toddler naps, Mother Nature has been enjoying her time alone as humanity hides from the pandemic. For humans, these past months have been a period of illness, death, and great fears, but for nature it has been a time of recovery.
One of the earliest results has been a decrease in air pollution. This is a fairly obvious byproduct of fewer cars on the roads, less air traffic, and closed factories. Greenhouse gas emissions fell by some 25 percent in China, where people saw a noticeable improvement in air quality. Similar results have been felt in other parts of the world. In New York City, carbon monoxide has been reduced by nearly 50 percent.
Plummeting air pollution has suddenly brought clear skies in places that have not had them in decades. In Uttar Pradesh, India, residents awoke one morning to an astonishing sight—the snow-capped mountain peaks of the Himalayas which had been invisible for 30 years because of pollution.
Because of diminished pollution, lakes, streams, and rivers are suddenly flowing with cleaner waters. With reduced motor boat traffic and absence of cruise ships, the residents of Venice are seeing remarkably clear waters in their canals; some report sighting fish. In Mumbai, the annual flocks of flamingos are massive this year because less polluted waters allow growth of more algae, their primary food source.
Not everything is good news, however. The photos showing dolphins frolicking in the sea near Venice were found to be a hoax. But more disturbing than such fake news are opportunistic abuses taking place as humans let down their guard. In Kenya, ivory poaching is up; and charcoal production, which has been illegal since 2018, has also increased.
The question we need to ask is whether the positive effects of humanity’s lockdown will continue in the long run. Some experts think that images of cleaner skies and waters may motivate people to change some of their pre-Covid-19 habits. The pandemic has demonstrated how globally connected we are in illness. Can we also connect the same way for the general good? Maybe more people will choose to use public transportation instead of constantly using their cars—particularly in the US. Perhaps more will decide to work from home. And global supply chains might become more local.
Winston Churchill once said, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” Can we take the lessons we learned in leaving Mother Nature alone and use them in the future? If anything, 2020 has proven that anything is possible. What was previously considered normal can shift into being impractical and unacceptable in the blink of an eye. There is hope that humans will recognize the harm they have been causing to the planet and start making positive changes.