While people are trying to heal from COVID-19, the earth is doing its own healing. With the halt in consumerism, the earth is fixing some of its problems.
NASA scientist Jennifer Kaiser has been using the shutdown to conduct experiments to test the environmental impact of air travel. In an article published on NASA’s website, they have concluded emissions have changed with low travel but expect them to go back up.
“Current conditions create a unique opportunity to study airport-related pollutants, especially nitrogen dioxide and formaldehyde,” Kaiser said. “It’s a footprint that will likely gradually return to its former shape as travel policies are relaxed.”
This change was also noted by Missouri State University Department of Geography, Geology and Planning professor, Melinda Gutierrez.
“For one thing, transportation of goods and people has been significantly reduced,” Gutierez said. “Airplanes have long been pointed out for their negative environmental impact because of their emissions to the atmosphere.”
However, unlike Kaiser, Gutierrez said COVID might be showing people that there are other ways of transport.
“People defend the economic and social benefits of flying when they compare it with road travel,” Gutierez said. “But COVID-19 is showing us that there are other options we humans should consider and that the planet needs our input in order to heal.”
Gutierrez said people are seeing the success of working together to fight the virus and hopefully this can translate to helping the environment.
“Using this approach (working together) to other problems afflicting earth, such as loss of biodiversity and environmental degradation, produces hope,” Gutierrez said.
Another unexpected result of these shutdowns are animals roaming free. News organizations like The Guardian have captured photographs ranging from deer roaming the streets to sea lions on sidewalks.
Gutierrez said this was surprising, but a sign of hope.
“In a critical time like we are living now as a result of the pandemic, when uncertainty and fear are common, seeing the response of wildlife in all places of the world shown in social media produces a warm feeling,” Gutierrez said. “It is also a message of hope.”
Although Gutierrez said there is hope, she also said things will probably go back to pre-COVID-19 levels as the virus leaves. But, there are hopes for change.
“We will probably go back to the way things were, at least for a short while,” Gutierrez said. “But then, the lessons learned now will kick in and people will start making better decisions with respect to human health and environmental health, which happen to be closely intertwined.
Gutierrez said the environmental effects of this virus may offer solutions to bigger problems that have always had difficult solutions.
“No one imagined the level of change that is taking place now to overcome COVID-19, and now that we see the magnitude of collaboration,” Gutierrez said. “Finding ways to help the global climate crisis will become more of a familiar struggle instead of an unrelated and distant problem.”
In a time of panic, the earth has found time to heal.