Swans Return to Venice’s Canals, China’s Skies Become Clearer: Mother Earth is Making the Most of the Coronavirus Lockdown

Earth

Swans Return to Venice’s Canals, China’s Skies Become Clearer: Mother Earth is Making the Most of the Coronavirus Lockdown

Illustration: Reynold Mascarenhas

Winston Churchill once said, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” And with 94 countries reporting cases of the novel coronavirus Covid-19 and over a million people infected globally, the current pandemic is probably the biggest health crisis in a century.  And while governments and societies are fighting just to cope with the crisis, Mother Nature has been making the most of this window of reduced human activity.Thanks to the rapid spread of Covid-19, personal habits and public protocols have had to be amended to limit contagion. “Social distancing” is the buzzword of 2020, and large events, group gatherings, and mass transport have been curtailed. Naturally, this has impacted productivity of factories and heavy industries, which in turn has yielded unforeseen benefits for the environment.

Take Italy, for instance. It is the worst-hit country in Europe, with over 1,000 deaths. The entire country is essentially under lockdown. While this does mean that many people are seeing their dreams of going on summer vacation in Italy come crashing down, the reduced tourism has ironically made some of Italy’s tourist spots even more scenic.

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The reduced tourism has ironically made some of Italy’s tourist spots even more scenic.

Giacomo Cosua/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The internet was flooded with photos from Venice, showing how the reduced boat traffic in the city’s famous canals has allowed the sediments to settle, making the water within remarkably clearer than most residents remember. Some locals even reported seeing fish in the canals! Along with improved clarity in the water, Venice’s air quality has also improved thanks to the suspension of cruise ships.

Venice isn’t the only place where the coronavirus is erasing the ill-effects of human activity. In China, the epicentre of the pandemic, the decrease in factory productivity meant that residents of Hubei Province saw some of the clearest, most pollution-free skies in recent memory. Satellite images obtained by NASA and the European Space Agency also showed a dramatic decrease in harmful emissions over major Chinese cities between January and February, when the virus was spreading rapidly. Away from the Chinese mainland, on the island of Hong Kong, similar results were reported, with air quality in the city improving since the implementation of containment measures.

These findings were the subject of a CNN report titled “There’s an Unlikely Beneficiary of Coronavirus: The Planet”. It’s interesting to see how quickly nature seems to reassert itself when human activity ceases. Perhaps it’s the planet’s way of telling humans to take it easy on the whole “exploitation of the earth” thing we’ve been doing for centuries. It’s time for priorities to be re-evaluated.

Last summer, all people were talking about was Avengers: Endgame; this summer, they’re talking about the end of the world. When you see how pollution levels are dropping in the wake of reduced activity, you start to wonder if we were too quick to judge Thanos after all.

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