Happy Earth Day, Adventurers! It’s the 50th anniversary of the holiday, which was created to support environmental protection.
Since we Adventurers have a special place in our hearts for Mother Nature, I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to look at how Covid-19 is effecting our environment, for better, and for worse.
First, let’s look at the good news!
Less Human Activity
As a whole, humans can be pretty disruptive to other animal species – in everything from loss of habitat, to producing air, light, and noise pollution.
Since humans have been sheltering at home, we are seeing a lot more animals out and about. For example:
- More coyotes, bobcats, and bears have been roaming about Yosemite National Park.
- A grey wolf was seen in Northern France for the first time in over 100 years.
- Lions are sunbathing on roads and wild dogs frolicing on golf courses in South Africa.
Less Disruption of Animal Behavior
According to scientists, “Birds, fish and mammals are at their most vulnerable in the spring as they migrate, spawn or venture out of hibernation. Mating habits are also affected by humans because their presence can be a stressor for animals, leading to smaller litters, premature births, or abandoning of young.”
For example, since the beaches in Florida and Thailand have closed down, both locations have seen record numbers of sea turtle nests. Scientists think this is because there are less beach-goers to disturb the mothers when they’re laying their eggs, and the hatchlings as they emerge.
Since our quarantine has occurred in the Spring, we may see a population boom in the next generation of animals in our absence.
Less Commercial Fishing
In many countries around the world including France, Croatia, Greece, China, and much of West Africa, fishing boats have been forced to stay in harbor due to Covid-19 concerns. In some of these places, commercial fishing has been reduced by as much as 80%.
When commercial fishing was shut down during World War I and II, fish populations thrived.
Depending on the length of time Covid-19 keeps boats docked, overfished populations may have a chance to recover.
Less Air Pollution
As stay-at-home orders are issued across the globe, industry is shutting down and people have stopped traveling. It is estimated that air travel has decreased by approximately 90%, and ground travel by over 50% since Covid-19 became a pandemic.
These changes have led to dramatic decreases in air pollution and greenhouse gas emission. The result of which is bluer skies and cleaner air.
The following statistics are just a few examples of the scope of the decrease in air pollution:
- Pollution levels in New York decreased by half.
- Emissions in China decreased by 25%.
- Coal use fell by 40% at China’s largest power plants.
- 85 cities in India saw less air pollution after only a week of lockdown.
In fact, a town in India located only 100 miles from the Himalayas, was able to see the mountain range for the first time in over 30 years!
If the air is cleaner, the survival of plants improves. If plants are thriving, so can the insects that depend on them, and the birds that feed on the insects. Cleaner air can benefit the whole food chain.
Less Light Pollution
Many bird populations are very sensitive to man-made light. Artificial lights can cause seabirds, which are especially sensitive, to make navigational mistakes which often result in death.
However, with cities on lockdown, and many companies and industries closed, a lot of commercial buildings are now dark at night, sparing birds from this fate.
Less Noise Pollution
The effect of noise pollution on wildlife is often overlooked. One of the biggest known sources of noise pollution is transportation, including air, ground, and ocean travel.
Noise pollution is known to have negative effects on birds, whales, frogs, shrimp, fish, many mammals, and even mussels and snakes.
Birds and whales are both very vocal animals. They rely on singing to communicate messages about predators, to find a mate, and to coordinate feeding. Noise pollution makes it hard for them to communicate and which can jeopardize their survival.
It has also been found that in some bird species, noise pollution can actually cause more embryo fatalities.
The good news is that noise pollution, both on land, and in water has decreased during Covid-19. On land it has decreased due to less road traffic. But ocean traffic has decreased quite a bit as well. This is due in part to the decrease in commercial fishing, the cancellation of cruises, and less tanker traffic due to crashing oil prices.
Because this noise reduction is happening in spring when many animals mate and give birth, it could lead to a more than normal number of newborn animals.
Less Water Pollution?
There are not a lot of statistics about the effect Covid-19 is having on water quality yet.
However, there have been viral images floating around the internet of how much cleaner the Venice canals are looking since Italy has been on lockdown.
And with less ship traffic in our oceans, it is tempting to think that water pollution may be decreasing to some extent as well.
Is It All Good?
No. While less human activity means less pollution, there are also some negative consequences of Covid-19 on the environment.
With people staying home and ordering take out food and more things online, the average household is producing more trash.
People also seem to be using more single use plastics, and in some places plastic bag bans have been lifted. To make matters worse, many recycling centers around the world have been shut down.
Tom Szaky, the CEO of TerraCycle said, “This is the great irony—the world will breathe better (referring to less air pollution) but wake up to an even bigger garbage crisis.”
Are The Decreases In Pollution From Covid-19 Enough To Make A Lasting Difference?
Covid-19 is not the cure for our environmental problems. It took us a long time to get into the environmental mess that we are in now. It will take a lot of hard work over a prolonged period of time if we are going to improve our situation.
Legendary primatologist, Jane Goodall worries about human behavior resorting back to a “business as usual” mindset after the pandemic is over. And if that is the case, nothing will change.
But hopefully Covid-19 will give us a little perspective and help us to consider options that we haven’t in the past.
For example, maybe more companies will decide that remote work is a viable option for their employees. This remote work would cut down on commuting which is such a big source of air and noise pollution.
Who knows what things will be like after this pandemic? I think some things will never go back to the way they were. And maybe that’s not a bad thing.
How do you think the world will be different after the Covid-19? Are there some changes in human behavior that you would like to see continue for the benefit of Mother Earth?