Mother Nature’s Wake Up Call

By Peter Cromwell

Covid-19 has had a huge impact on our daily lives. People struggle to make up for lost income, the economy is hurting, and infection rates are increasing daily in many states across the U.S. Through it all, though, there might be a silver lining to this crisis.

While restrictions are easing up in many states, it goes without saying that people are not traveling much. As of April, air travel was down by 95%. In fact, early on in this pandemic, around 2 billion people in the world were on “lockdown.” Activity outside the home was and still is greatly reduced, and we’re seeing a strange thing happen as a result: Mother Nature is moving in to fill the gaps left.

As humans stayed home…nature returned

Pictures shared on social media have given first-hand accounts of this in action. For example, in Punjab, India, thanks to a decline in air pollution from factories and cars, people can clearly see the Himalayas, from a distance of 120 miles, for the first time in 30 years.  In Venice, Italy, dolphins have been seen in the canals as far fewer boats are out on the water. In the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency rated Los Angeles’s air quality as “good” for the first time since 1995; blue skies have returned to L.A.

We don’t want to downplay the human cost of Covid-19; the coronavirus pandemic has been terrible. If we can get one positive thing out of it, though, it’s that our response to it has shown that people can work together and, actually, we can make changes to the environment. Most people agree that changing their normal behavior – for example, by staying at home – is a good idea to help get us through the pandemic as smoothly as possible.

As a result, some have wondered why we can’t make an effort, together, to allow our planet’s environment a chance to heal.

The Connection Between Human Activity and the Spread of Coronavirus

It’s interesting to realize that there’s a connection between environmental damage and the spread of the virus. For example, pollution can make peoples’ lungs weaker and more susceptible to these kinds of diseases. We see that environmental health and human health are connected in more ways than one – global health is human health.

According to Forbes, it’s possible that the reduced air pollution in many areas of China has saved around 77,000 lives. This is borne out by actual statistics: in preparation for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, the Chinese government cleaned the air around the capital, and infant and elderly mortality rates sharply declined. Taking care of the environment is beneficial to everyone in both the short- and long-term.

Besides the current virus, there’s a direct link between pollution and overall health: according to the World Health Organization around 3 million people die each year from conditions related to air pollution. Air pollution and health play off of each other, for example leading to diabetes and heart disease so that, when a global pandemic strikes, people who live in areas more susceptible to pollution are more likely to be infected or die.

A Model for Climate Change

Many people have compared and contrasted the response to coronavirus and the response to climate change. Both are pandemics of different types – Covid-19 is a global health problem, whereas climate change is a global health problem, if you’ll forgive the pun. In spite of the idea that it will be impossible to change human behavior on the scale necessary to reduce the progression of climate change, observers have noticed, the global response to coronavirus has shown that it is actually possible

According to scientists, climate change is, like coronavirus, an immediate problem. What if we were to treat climate change in the same way in which we have treated this virus? Just as almost everyone around the world has gotten on board with taking steps to lessen the effects of the virus – which has, by the way, reduced air pollutants by as much as 40 % in Europe and Asia – they could get on board with taking steps to reduce the effects of climate change.

It’s no longer hard to imagine a society where jobs, transportation industries, and regular people cooperate to mitigate a public health crisis, and climate change is, of course, the granddaddy of all public health crises. One problem, though, is that the existence of climate change is not as obvious to people as the existence of coronavirus is: it takes living on a remote island to notice the rise in sea levels, or the use of scientific instruments to measure long-term changes in temperature.

Not only does our response to coronavirus show that we can work together to make positive changes, but it shows we can work together to make the right changes. The primary culprit of climate change is, of course, the greenhouse gases. NASA satellites recorded a decrease in 30 % of nitrogen dioxide – one of the most damaging and widespread of the greenhouse gases – in China back in January. This shows that change can take place rapidly, even within a month or two, which begs the question of why emissions reduction targets are usually planning a reduction over a decade or two – we can make a change within a few months.

In a way that none of us could have imagined, the coronavirus pandemic has served as a wake-up call in more ways than one. Maybe the planet is letting us know that, if we work together, we can cause change.