The Argonaut–OPINION: The world during quarantine
We all remember toward the beginning of quarantine in the U.S. when the viral photos of dolphins and swans in a crystal-clear Venetian canal gained attraction on the Internet, right? The caption declared that humans are the real virus and without us “nature is healing.”
Your tree-hugging Facebook friends weren’t the only ones fooled by the post either, several news sites reported on the pictures before it was revealed that the inspirational animal recovery was fake news.
National Geographic reports that while the waters of Venice’s canals were clearing up due to reduced boat traffic during the pandemic, the swans and dolphins were photographed in other parts of Italy where their presence was normal before COVID-19 shut down the nation.
It’s not hard to understand how the misinformation spread, and who wouldn’t want to believe it was true? I think we want to believe something good will come from the hard times we’re living through, that there’s a cosmic reason for this virus and when it’s over the world will be a better place. It has been eight months of consistently bad news across the board and it’s natural to crave a silver lining.
Whether that silver lining can come from the natural world is up for debate. While national parks and wildlife refuges around the world have seen decreased traffic, giving the wildlife some much-needed rest, the loss of tourism revenue threatens the status of future conservation funding.
The New York Times stated in June that elephant survival has increased in Thailand’s Khao Yai National Park now that they no longer have to tread dangerous routes through the jungle to avoid encountering tourists. A separate New York Times article from April, however, revealed that a spike in poaching attempts has been a dark consequence of cutbacks in the tourist economy of South African national parks.
The pandemic has started an important conversation about our role in nature and the ways we can alter our habits to live more sustainably, if and when, things go back to normal. If COVID-19 can be traced back to an animal-infected patient zero, we might consider ways to prevent future diseases spread between animals and humans by preserving more habitat and limiting human development in wildland-urban interface areas.
Anthropocene Magazine published an article describing the increased efficiency of solar power grids in Delhi, India, as air pollution plummeted during lockdown, prompting conversations about what a world with clean air might look like and how to achieve it.
For political conservation movements, COVID-19 has almost certainly had a net-negative impact. Rural Indigenous communities across the Americas have been especially vulnerable to the virus, and we have lost too many unsung champions of environmental activism this year. Legal cases concerning environmental law have been drawn out due to lock-down procedures, but logging projects, both legal and illegal, have continued almost unimpeded in many areas. And, in regions without reliable Internet access, activists and environmental stakeholders have been forced to choose between foregoing scheduled meetings or risking their lives by gathering.
The pandemic and resulting quarantine have unmistakably affected our natural world. Some places have seen evidence of natural systems on the rebound, while other ecosystems would be better off with a return to the status quo. COVID-19 isn’t doing us any favors. If we really want to see nature heal, it will take intentional action and cultural shifts across the globe.
Beth Hoots can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.