Story by Sofia Anrecio, Photo by Tiffany Liu
We may have missed Earth Day, but Earth Day didn’t miss us.
We are washing hands, wearing masks, and social distancing: doing our part to flatten the curve. All the while, our vacancy from the outside world has granted nature its sweetest respite in eons. In a way, these may be the most impactful Earth Day contributions yet.
Carbon emissions have dropped, pollution of beaches has been put on hold, and wildlife has reemerged. Instances of this renewed vitality can be spotted across the globe. First in Wuhan, the epicenter of the pandemic, the smog that typically congests the sky has dissipated. NASA satellite images show that levels of nitrogen dioxide have plummeted, and other Asian metropolises have followed suit. Delhi, Mumbai, Seoul, and Dubai are basking in clear skies as the burning of fossil fuels from industry and travel has been significantly curtailed.
The Punjab region of India has caught sight of the Himalayas 100 miles away for the first time in 30 years. In Italy, the canals of Venice once opaque with swirling sediment from water traffic are now teeming with jellyfish, crabs, and fish. In Thailand and Florida alike, sea turtle nests have proliferated across the beaches as incubation and hatching have proceeded unaffected by plastic, vehicles, and light pollution. Even more promising, the small scale reinvigoration of sea turtle populations maintains the health of delicate food webs in marine ecosystems.
This ordeal has profoundly changed the world. I am one of many Gators eager to return to Gainesville, starved of any iota of “normalcy,” whatever and whenever that may be. Yet after witnessing such a pendulum effect between mankind sequestered and Mother Nature flourishing, I can’t help but wonder… can the health of the two ever be completely compatible? Carbon and pollution levels have plummeted in tandem with the economy. The unemployment rate teeters over the highest level since the Great Depression. The well-being of man and nature is incongruous in our industrial, modern world.
I don’t celebrate this brief environmental recovery at the expense of human lives, financial security, and overall stability of the pre-COVID world. However, it inspires hope that if nature can show signs of rebounding after just a couple months of quarantine, maybe it is not too late to keep this planet sustainable for the future. Considering how relatively fast the skies across many cities cleared, a future of clean, renewable energy can make these current conditions a reality.