First Earth Day 1970. Fifty years ago in April 2020. Yes, really, masks. We thought then we would be remembered as the generation of love, not as self-centered baby boomers. We were out to save our planet.
In the spring of 2020 global lockdowns enacted in response to the coronavirus threat resulted in astonishing evidence of the earth’s capacity to heal when human activity is reduced. Jan Vaupel shared a series of reports from around the world together with links to the source material, and added her personal reflections in a poem.
Seven ways the planet has gotten better since the coronavirus shutdown
Updated: April 22, 2020
Though the coronavirus has caused life-threatening havoc and widespread economic damage, it has had other, unforeseen impacts: less pollution, a renewed embrace of gardening for some, less-threatened wildlife in some areas, and even better views of the Himalayas.
For sure, the virus’ sweeping negative effects are devastating. But, here are some of the top ways it has had some positive impact, even if only temporary, in time for the 50th anniversary of Earth Day.
Animals roam in national parks
A Los Angeles Times photographer captured images of deer, coyotes, and other animals wandering through parts of Yosemite National Park, such as the large Curry Village campground, which would normally be filled with people this time of year — and where fearful animals would not normally tread.
But because the park is closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, campgrounds and trails at Yosemite are empty of people.
As a result, “deer, bobcats, coyotes, and bears no longer have to deal with the hordes of camera-toting tourists vying to capture nature. They now roam unfettered,” the photographer noted. And EcoWatch, an environmental news organization, is reporting that bears are making the most of the park’s closure.
Elsewhere, jackals have been documented gathering in Tel Aviv’s Hayarkon Park, according to the Washington Post and Associated Press. Normally, the park would be filled with runners, children, and picnickers. Now, however, jackals have ventured out.
ODED BALILTY / AP FILE – In this Saturday, April 11, 2020 file photo, a pack of jackals eats dog food that was left for them by a woman at Hayarkon Park in Tel Aviv, Israel. With a lockdown against the coronavirus crisis, the sprawling park is practically empty. This has cleared the way for packs of jackals to take over this urban oasis in the heart of the city as they search for food. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)
Less local pollution
At least two key pollutants in Philadelphia have dropped because of the sudden, drastic reduction in motor-vehicle and bus traffic.
The biggest drop came with nitrogen dioxide, or NO2, an indicator for a group of gases known as nitrogen oxides (NOx). The monitors show a big decline in NO2, which is a good thing since it is harmful to human health. NO2 is pumped into the air during the burning of fossil fuels used in motor vehicles and power plants. Breathing high concentrations of the gas can irritate airways, aggravate respiratory diseases, and lead to coughing, wheezing, and difficulty breathing.
‘Victory’ gardens return
Whether prompted by boredom, the need for a kid-friendly activity, nice spring weather, or fear of not having access to fresh produce, suburban and urban homeowners are scooping up seeds by the handful and making them grow. The concept of Victory Gardens was created by the U.S. government in World War I, when food shortages in war-torn Europe put the burden of feeding millions on Americans.
But now, as The Inquirer has reported, Pennsylvania residents have taken the impetus and set up social media sites to draw like-minded gardeners. For example, Jennifer Aylward-Kasitz, 39, created a Facebook group for her Coatesville friends and neighbors to encourage them to get their hands dirty. “No experience needed,” the Chester County mom of three posted on the site.
She called her project the Coatesville Victory Garden Club But the movement is not just local. The pandemic has forced people to think about their connection to food, the Sierra Club reported, especially after seeing stripped grocery shelves.
Reuters reported that people worldwide are “turning to gardening as a soothing, family-friendly hobby that also eases concerns over food security as lockdowns slow the harvesting and distribution of some crops. Fruit and vegetable seed sales are jumping worldwide.”
Empty beaches, more turtles
Leatherback sea turtles, the largest living sea turtles, reaching up to 2,000 pounds, are making a comeback on Juno Beach in Florida, according to a report by CBS12. The beach is the most densely nested sea turtle beach in the world, the Loggerhead Marinelife Center told the news station.
And, for the first time in memory, people are banned from stepping near the nests while beaches remain closed during the pandemic. So far this year the marine center has already counted 71 nests, nearly all leatherback sea turtles, well ahead of last year and it’s still early in the season. Thailand is experiencing the same boon for leatherbacks, as its beaches are also empty of tourists. The species is endangered there.
Some residents in northern India are reporting that they can see the Himalaya Mountains 125 miles away for the first time in 30 years, according to news and social media reports.
“Mesmerizing, amazing, massive, surprising, never-before. There’s been no dearth on social media of words to express what people in Jalandhar district of Punjab in India were feeling,” reported SBS Hindi.
India is under a 21-day lockdown, and its Central Pollution Board is reporting a “significant improvement in air quality,” the news report stated.
Himalaya mountains can be seen from Jalandhar since pollution has reduced in Punjab. Beautiful sight Photo taken from Sialkot Punjab – Kashmir’s mountains are clear as the weather clears.
CNN reported that “Delhi saw up to a 44% reduction in PM10 air pollution levels on the first day of its restrictions, India’s Central Pollution Control Board found. The PM10 standard measures airborne particulates 10 micrometers or smaller in diameter.”
The drops in air pollution are attributed to the shutdown of industry, absence of motor vehicles, and canceled airline flights.
The water in the famed canals of Venice is much clearer, though the first, breathless reports in March led readers to believe that the water was somehow less polluted because of the lack of tourists with the shutdown imposed March 10 in Italy. And the office of the mayor of Venice told the publication that it’s likely the water is clear simply because there is a lack of tourist-filled gondolas and sightseeing boats that would normally stir up sediment and make the water look cloudy. Now, the sediment has been allowed to settle.
Reports of dolphins swimming in the canals turned out to be bogus, according to National Geographic. But there have been jellyfish easily visible. And residents are rejoicing at the beautiful sight of clear canal water.
Biologist Andrea Mangoni, who filmed the video, said low boat traffic due to the coronavirus pandemic has increased water transparency and made it possible to observe marine life in the heart of the city.
And here in Ybor, chickens are stalking the city.
Less greenhouse gases
The chief greenhouse gas in the United States is carbon dioxide, which is widely dispersed in the atmosphere and can come from anywhere. Philadelphia does not monitor CO2 levels in its network, so there’s no way to get a solid number on local levels. However, the federal Energy Information Administration is forecasting that nationwide, “energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions will decrease by 7.5% in 2020 as the result of the slowing economy and restrictions on business and travel activity related to COVID-19.” And even for 2021, the agency is forecasting that CO2 might only bounce back by 3.6%. But any lasting effect of the current economic slump on long-term changes in climate will be too small to notice. Frank Kummer
Fifty years after the first Earth Day, the same problems still exist. America still hasn’t kicked its addiction to fossil fuels — even though it is now clear that burning them is cooking the planet. And the pressure is still on consumers to clean up the messes that companies make, rather than requiring products to have built-in reusability in a circular economy.
Since this article is mostly borrowed from other sources, I have written an original poem to atone.
A lesson learned in twenty twenty
The year Corona stripped Earth of plenty, plenty
We were unprepared for adversity
We are a land proud of rich diversity
With a computer click, we had dispersity
We were taken by surprise with sparsity
While we sheltered in place
Mother Earth donned a new face
Automobile keys were left on a hook
Lack of pollution was a better look
Our air and water grow clear
Animals roam our cities without fear.
In Venice, the canals grow clean
Their blue water is aquamarine
Jackals play in a Tel Aviv park
Coyotes roam San Francisco by dark
We clean our homes and garages
We don masks and gloves like camouflages
We have mealtimes at the table and talk
We call dads and moms and our dogs we walk
Children attend school via Zoom
PJ’s are our new costume.
For Uno, Train, and Monopoly they plea
Yes, we start to remember how to play.
Mother Earth takes time to recover
When this ends, a different life we will discover
This renewal comes at great cost
We pray the recovery will not be lost.
David Attenborough also noticed the effect a human lockdown had on the other creatures who inhabit our planet. His stunning film, The Year Earth Changed, is available on Apple TV now and is likely to be available on other streaming services eventually. — Editor
Jan Vaupel retired eleven years ago from teaching school in California to begin her adventure in Florida and was delighted to discover OLLI-USF. She has enjoyed many cooking classes, especially Italian and Spanish, but her passions are writing and hiking with Gail Parsons. She enrolled in Gail’s classes, including the Exploring Hillsborough County Wildlands and Bird Watching and is now part of the OLLI Hiking SIG. She has also taken creative writing classes and several watercolor classes with Harvey Berman. She is currently in an OLLI writing group called the Imaginative Crew.