Friday, December 3, 2021

A Blessing In All This Messing?

Something is going on in the world today, something that is causing everyone in every corner of the Earth to stop and pay attention. A deadly virus has gripped the planet, affecting the human population to the likes not seen this generation.

Some countries have completely shut down most of their operations and have ordered citizens to stay at home. The use of automobiles has come to an actual halt in some areas. The use of boats in Italy’s canals has ceased. Subways have stopped and orders to not gather in groups of more than 2 are now enforced in Britain.

The left map shows heavy pollution over Beijing prior to the COVID-19 outbreak. The right map shows drastic clarity in the atmosphere when factories closed, and motor vehicle traffic was severely reduced. A similar clarity was seen during Beijing’s 2008 Olympics.

These are all measures deemed necessary to stop the spread of this deadly enemy known as COVID-19. The requests to self-quarantine and limit as much contact with others truly seem to be smart, aggressive means of slowing or stopping the spread of this disease. The human population may have a long journey to fight this enemy, but possibly a shorter one if we all comply.

Although it seems unlikely, there may be a positive coming from all of the quarantine orders. As the human race has expanded, exponentially it seems, we have invented more and more devices that help us thrive within the spaces that we reside in. Around the world, landscapes have changed as we plodded forward to build roads, cities, factories and more. The planet changed drastically to accommodate our species and its inventions. We’ve harvested the planet of many natural resources along the way and, because of habitat loss, many of nature’s creatures and the resources that they have used are changed as well.

Some might say that they have changed forever. Maybe not!

In northeast China, a minor miracle has taken place during this virus. Since fewer motorized vehicles are running and factories were shut down, the air quality has improved! Air pollution levels have dropped by nearly 25% as coal-fired plants and industrial facilities have scaled down in high-risk virus areas. According to NASA, nitrogen dioxide—a pollutant primarily from burning fossil fuels—is 30% down. People interviewed in Shanghai stated the skies are the most pristine blue that they remember.

Air pollution is estimated to contribute to more than 1 million premature deaths in China each year. Particle Pollution (PM 2.5) can enter the bloodstream through the lungs and has been linked to respiratory problems, heart attacks and asthma attacks.

During the 2008 summer Olympics in Beijing, Chinese officials from the government shut factories and limited car travel before and after the games. Some air pollutant levels dropped by 50%. Pregnant women of the area were studied at this time and those in their third trimester produced children whose body weights were substantially higher than children born in that region the year before and year after the Olympics.

In Venice, Italy, as that country has been on lockdown recently, decreased boat traffic on the canals has also improved air quality. In addition, the clarity of water in the canals has also improved. Some residents are sharing their photos on the Facebook page Venezia Pulita (meaning Clean Venice) of their favorite clear canals. One posting said, “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Some areas of the world have reported hearing birds singing where they have not been heard for a long, long time. As other parts of the world remain on restrictions, it seems apparent that more such findings will manifest themselves. 

However, what happens after the viral storm clears? Will we simply go back to doing what we did prior to this pandemic, with cars, factories and industry producing the pollutants that were familiar just a short time ago? Or maybe, just maybe, we will learn a quick lesson and make some adjustments in a world-wide lifestyle to keep our air quality cleaner and our children healthier. Good luck, Humanity! 

Bob is a Naturalist on board the dolphin study/eco-tour vessel Dolphin Explorer. He is the author of two books available locally and a guest speaker at several area venues. An award-winning columnist for the Coastal Breeze News he wants everyone to know that he loves his wife very much!

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