The news is daily filled with stories about COVID-19, which are disrupting our lives and the economy. But is there anything good coming out of this? Well, beyond the sadness and unease, some benefits are being shown that positively impact some parts of our lives and the environment. Here are a few examples that offer environmental hope for our future!
The most obvious environmental benefit is that travel has diminished across the globe. Tens of thousands of airline flights flooded the sky until recently, and billions of people commuted to work. Much of the world is shut down now. People are staying home and where possible are working remotely. The benefit has not been measured accurately, but the impact from the reduction in greenhouse gas generation is tremendous. Tens of thousands of tonnes of CO2 are not being released, so the negative impacts on climate are likewise reduced. Reports out of China, the US, Italy and other parts of Europe show that airborne pollutants, particularly (Nitrous oxide) NO2, have declined by approximately 50%. The European Environmental Agency published numbers this week that show NO2 levels in one province of Italy have declined by 47% versus the same time last year. In Rome, these levels are down by about 30%. Most of this decline is being attributed to reduced travel by gas-powered vehicles. While numbers weren’t readily available for New York or California, indications are that the levels of NO2 there have declined correspondingly. This alone may save tens of thousands of lives worldwide from respiratory impacts!
One of the most widely published stories in the news was about the Grand Canal and other waterways in Venice, Italy. For the first time in decades, you could see fish and plants in the water as boat traffic is virtually halted. I was there in November and can attest the waters were murky and litter filled.
On a very positive note, China has just announced that the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC) is temporarily banning the trade and consumption of wild animals. The ban, which takes immediate effect, covers the hunting, trading and transport of all terrestrial wild and captive-bred animals for human consumption. This is an attempt to limit the exposure of people to animals that could carry viruses humans haven’t encountered before. Once the pandemic is resolved, there is a growing call for China to keep the ban in place permanently and amend its wildlife laws accordingly. Other countries are lagging behind but need to do likewise.
Ecologists around the globe have been studying the phenomenon of wildlife movement from natural habitats to exotic animal breeding facilities and markets for decades. They are saying that as we continue to invade new areas of the globe, intending to exploit its resources, we upset the natural balance of nature. For example, animals that might otherwise be able to transmit viral diseases between species have been geographically isolated for eons. As we transport these species to new habits, we now facilitate linkages that allow the virus to transfer inter-specifically with devastating results. Many pathogens can and will move from mammalian host species to humans as evidenced by the various disease outbreaks that have historically moved through a mammalian host to humans, such as Ebola and the Black Plague. The more opportunities we create for this to happen, the more likely a new virus-linked pandemic will arise. In many markets, such as the one at Wuhan, China, animals are kept alive and butchered on the spot, so the pathogens remain viable and can easily transmit between species. The viruses can then mutate, and it creates interfaces to humans.
One other benefit that I and others enjoy is that we spend much more time enjoying our immediate neighbourhoods and yards, and so gain a greater appreciation of how diverse our little patch can be! So go outside, but maintain social distancing, and enjoy your little part of the world!
Geoff Carpentier is a published author, expedition guide, and environmental consultant. Visit Geoff on-line at www.avocetnatureservices.com and on LinkedIn and Facebook.