Global lockdowns and social distancing advisories to battle the COVID-19 pandemic have resulted in some unexpected effects. Bustling roads with traffic jams now wear a deserted look. The skies are clear as flights stand grounded. Water bodies are cleaner as ships are off the seas. The result is an opportunity for nature to rejuvenate itself.
All of us will agree that the sound of chirping birds is indeed a welcome change to the constant blaring of horns that was the norm before the lockdown. The environmental effect of the pandemic is a reminder for us that the world is an equal place for all its inhabitants. Once the pandemic is over, humanity should be more considerate towards nature.
Since the lockdown, nature has made its presence felt in our daily lives. Besides, social media is flooded with pictures of nature reclaiming its territory. For instance, in Venice, which is one of Italy’s biggest attractions, less boat traffic has made the canals clearer, with small fishes being seen swimming around. Dolphins have also been sighted on Mumbai’s coast. It is assumed that the decrease in fishing activity along the state and the limited movement of large ships at ports have led to these phenomena.
Emission-detecting satellites have shown a considerable decline in pollution levels in metropolitan cities all over the world. A NASA report stated that factory closures and fall in motor traffic in China resulted in a sustained drop in harmful nitrogen dioxide. Nitrogen dioxide is emitted by burning fuel, cars, power plants, and construction machinery, and it can aggravate respiratory symptoms and asthma, among other adverse effects.
There is often a pollution drop-off in China around the time of the Lunar New Year which occurs in late January or early February. But air pollution rates usually spike up quite quickly. However, this year was different. Researchers said nitrogen dioxide rates were on average 30% lower than usual, compared to an average of 10% lower during the same periods between 2005 and 2019. They added there hasn’t been the usual rebound after the Lunar New Year.
Similarly, in the USA, atmospheric emissions linked to cars and trucks have registered a significant decline. Major metropolitan areas, including Los Angeles, Seattle, New York, Chicago and Atlanta, have shut down following the COVID-19 outbreak.
While the above incidents are great news and a source of positivity in these gloomy times, scientists warn that this is a short-term effect. Air quality will likely revert to its previous state once regular activity resumes as cities and countries manage to quell the virus outbreak.
According to a recent report from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), nature is declining globally at rates unprecedented in human history — and the rate of species extinctions is accelerating, with grave impacts on people around the world. The report also states that it is not too late to make a difference, but only if we start now at every level from local to global.
The COVID-19 crisis has brought about unprecedented changes compelling humanity to rethink its ways and work towards a sustainable, nature-positive economy. We must use the time we have on our hands right now to figure out how each one of us can contribute to towards a greener planet. We must remember that ecological conservation is our individual duty and collective responsibility.