As coronavirus continues to force the world to reassess priorities, nature is taking a well-earned rest. Well maybe not rest; it seems that nature has actually been working overtime lately. Nature never stops. She is always evolving, always trying to grow and always trying to recover from the stresses we humans place upon her. The human cost and suffering from coronavirus are staggering but the very thing that supports our ability to breathe, eat and drink has been suffering under attack from humans for hundreds of years.
Not only has environmental degradation made the situation worse, some scientists even think it is the underlying root cause. Species of plants and animals that have taken millions of years to evolve in symbiosis with one another have been rendered extinct in just a few human generations. I feel resentment, anger, and hostility to those who would continue this trend simply for their own personal gain – in spite of knowing the consequences of their inaction.
In a wonderful piece of news in a news cycle this year that has been dominated by pandemic, a beach in Brazil normally crowded with people is now empty. The good news is not that the beach is empty. No, it’s because this time sea turtles got a win. Earlier this month on playa Paulista, around 100 hawksbill sea turtles hatched out of their sand nests and made their way to the ocean. Critically endangered, biologists estimate that the hawksbill population has declined 80 percent in the past 100 years due to hunting and habitat loss. Hawksbill turtles are one of four sea turtles in the area and historically had a wide range, being found in most of the world’s oceans. In addition to the hawksbill, the green sea turtle, the olive ridley turtle, and the loggerhead turtle all make the beaches of Brazil their nesting habitat. More than 300 turtles have hatched there this year, but due to coronavirus, most have gone unnoticed by humans.
The earth is healing in other locations too.
In Santiago, Chile, the lack of people in the streets due to coronavirus has allowed big cats to venture back into some of their traditional range. Cougars have been reported in various parts of the city and some would suggest it is due to the lack of humans, noise and industrial activity that would normally keep these beautiful and elusive creatures at bay.
Reports of wildlife taking advantage of the quiet are coming from everywhere. From dolphins in the canals of Venice, lions sleeping on roads in South Africa or bobcats, bears, and coyotes exploring empty tents and administrative buildings in Yosemite national park. The animals are getting a break.
The world is quieter.
I for one love the quiet and peace that comes from being in nature. The world is a much quieter place right now. The lack of or reduction in surface transportation such as trains and large trucks actually has quietened the earth. A seismologist in London has seen a reduction in vibrations from human activity reflected in the reports generated from her scientific equipment. In New York, the city that never sleeps, Times Square sits virtually empty except for a few essential workers and local residents going about their business.
A drastic reduction in air traffic has reduced the noise from overhead. In some of the quietest areas on earth, the only noise you might hear is air traffic from above, and now it is less. In the oceans, a reduction in shipping traffic has meant less acoustic pollution in the water. Marine biologists surmise that sensitive marine mammals are getting a break too.
I’m no anarchist. I understand that as a society we need to have goods and services to fuel our economy and feed our people. However, it is nice to imagine a world where there is less invasive and selfish use of humanity’s power.
We are now capable of changing the planet in ways almost unimaginable even 50 years ago. In one lifetime we have gained almost complete power over all of nature (except this nasty virus and some large weather events), yet we cannot survive without our planet’s ecosystems intact. We need good food, clean water, and clean air in order to live. It has become apparent that the world will heal if left alone. It has also become apparent that as a society we can make huge sacrifices and changes to overcome a huge challenge like that which is occurring right now. Coronavirus has meant incredible damage to our traditional fuel-driven economy because it was forced upon us in such a short period of time. We have a similar challenge ahead; we must fix our planet, and it will require a great change to how we conduct trade, how we work and how we play.
If we turn our attention to fixing our planet’s ecosystems in a planned and managed way, society can benefit from the transition not suffer. We can employ millions of people building the infrastructure that will power the next epoch of human history. The green transition is coming. It is inevitable. The only question in my mind is how it will occur. Will we go kicking and screaming into an apocalyptic future or will we transition gracefully?
Humanity will survive coronavirus and it will change from it. It is my hope that we will embrace the changes ahead and do what we do best – thrive and grow.
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