A Slight Silver Lining

By Nora Lowe

Almost every headline since mid-March has had the word Coronavirus or COVID-19 embedded in it, and rightly so. We are currently living through history, and communities across the globe are facing unprecedented challenges. Both local and international businesses are struggling to stay afloat with decreased commerce, travel, and tourism. The healthcare industry is under immense stress, with a shortage of personal protective equipment and medical staff. The transition to e-Learning was difficult and may not be going away anytime soon.

However, taking a moment to appreciate a silver lining in this situation can help raise our spirits and provide a glimmer of hope.

Surprisingly, the restrictions on travel have led to a decrease in pollution. This effect has rippled outward and has unexpectedly helped our environment recover slightly from global warming, climate change, and other impending threats.

In fact, according to the Guardian, “First China, then Italy, now the UK, Germany and dozens of other countries are experiencing temporary falls in carbon dioxide and nitrogen dioxide of as much as 40%, greatly improving air quality and reducing the risks of asthma, heart attacks, and lung disease.” The article also highlights a number of interesting unintended, yet uplifting, consequences of lockdown and quarantine.

There has been a drastic decrease in air traffic and road traffic. In addition, there have been some interesting demographic changes to animal populations. The decrease in vehicle-related animal fatalities has yielded an increase in animal populations like foxes, owls, and even hedgehogs.

The Atlantic also highlights an intangible change that COVID-19 has brought about: a decrease in noise pollution. The consequences of this have spread outwards, reaching the oceans. The absence of ships and other marine craft have made oceans quieter. The piece underlines that “ambient noise from ships and other maritime traffic can increase stress-hormone levels in marine creatures, which can affect their reproductive success.” The article draws an intriguing parallel between the effects of the Coronavirus and 9/11, saying that “over the course of just a few days, when the noisy waters calmed, whales in the bay experienced a drop in their stress-level hormones.”

Yet, there have also been bogus claims and false reports of animals flourishing as a result of our new quarantine lifestyle. The title of a recent National Geographic article sheds light on the situation. It reads “Fake animal news abounds on social media as coronavirus upends life.” Natasha Daly, the author, explains that some of the most popular stories included “Swans had returned to deserted Venetian canals. Dolphins too. And a group of elephants had sauntered through a village in Yunnan.” Then these false stories circulated on social media platforms like Instagram and Tik Tok. Daly continued that “animals were bouncing back, running free in a humanless world. But it wasn’t real.” For instance, the swans had never left Venice, while the viral dolphin video was taken in Sardinia, hundreds of kilometers away.

The environment has benefited in some respects from our unusual and alarming situation, particularly through decreased transportation usage. However, this is not an excuse to think that nature has successfully recovered from our past wrongdoings. That is wishful thinking. This silver lining is a lining, and nothing more. Further, the benefits are bittersweet. They have only been brought about because of a crisis that has taken the lives of tens of thousands of people. 

This silver lining will slip away if we don’t take further action in the future. Currently, our priority is combatting the coronavirus and ameliorating the damage it has caused. Yet, we must also consider what a post-coronavirus world will look like.

The Guardian article discusses a few key takeaways from this experience: firstly, temporary improvements to the dire status of nature provide a glimpse of what could be if we take action to construct a more eco-friendly society. The article points out that “scientists and activists are pushing for an urgent public debate so that recovery can focus on green jobs and clean energy, building efficiency, natural infrastructure, and a strengthening of the global commons.” As certain states begin to reopen in an effort to regain some semblance of normalcy, we are faced with the choice to rebuild our society in a more sustainable manner, or to just revert to habits that threaten our ecosystem.

In addition, we must consider what should be learned from the experience of this pandemic. One extremely significant takeaway is how important it is to heed the warnings of professionals, scientists, and government officials before tragedy strikes. Just as a delayed response to the coronavirus left our nation unprepared and proved to be detrimental, ignoring the warnings of environmental activists and continuing to be wasteful in spite of their admonitions will most certainly be catastrophic. This is a cautionary tale for future generations.

Photography by Edith Bachmann