On Friday April 3rd, the residents of Jalandhar, a city in Punjab, India, awoke to an awe-inspiring sight, one of which had not been seen in 30 years.
Dhauladhar range, part of the Himalayas found in Himachal Pradesh and located over 100 miles away, became their city's backdrop.
As someone who has personally seen the Himalayas both from near and afar, trust me when I say they are absolutely breathtaking. Pictures do not do it justice.
Amazing changes due to plummeting pollution, just like in Jalandhar, are happening all over the world since the world shutdown due to COVID-19. And in honor of Earth Day which just passed, I thought it would be worthwhile mentioning some of the natural wildness that has returned to our world during this time:
Coyotes on Michigan Avenue in Downtown Chicago and near the Golden Gate Bridge.
Deer grazing close to the White House.
Wild boar roaming in Barcelona and Bergamo, Italy.
Peacocks strutting, goats goating, and sheep baaaaahing in multiple cities in Wales.
Pumas roaming the streets of Santiago, Chile.
Monkeys, becoming even bolder, invading homes and opening fridges looking for food in India.
Kangaroos hopping in downtown Adelaide, Australia.
Jackals lounging in a park in Tel Aviv.
Sea turtles nesting on uncrowded beaches all over the world.
All so incredible, especially for those who love nature - like this author.
But we cannot forget to include the scientific "stuff" because being a nerd is sexy. So let us talk a little about pollution in relation to COVID-19.
Nitrogen oxides are recognized as one of the major air pollutants in the world, with nitrogen dioxide (NO2) as a major focus.
NO2 emissions primarily occur through the burning of fossil fuels, such as through cars, trucks, buses, power plants, and off-road equipment. NO2, along with sulfur dioxides, can damage the environment through the formation of acid rain. NO2 inhalation inflames the lining of the lungs, which can cause a number of respiratory issues and increase your risk of developing a lung infection.
But NO2 emissions have been falling all over the world. It has been reduced by up to 30% in the Northeastern US, up to 40% in multiple areas over the EU and China, and up to 60% (!!!) in certain cities in the UK since the shutdown. And it should be noted reduction in mortality has been demonstrated in areas with lowering of NO2 content.
Besides NO2, many other air pollutants including ozone (a greenhouse gas formed when volatile organic compounds combine with nitrogen oxides in the presence of sunlight), sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, and particulate matter to name a few, all can lead to breathing issues and reduction in oxygen carrying capacity. And their levels too have been dramatically reduced across the world as a result of the shutdown.
This is remarkable. And a VERY good thing in the time of COVID-19.
These changes have clearly demonstrated how much of our pollution is man-made, and how quickly reductions in pollution can occur. And these changes are great.
However, those who may believe these short-term changes have done anything of significance to reduce the risk of global warming/climate change, please just chill. Because this has not happened.
Rapid reductions in levels of pollutants have occurred. But unfortunately, even though carbon dioxide (CO2), a major greenhouse gas, has seen levels drop as well, this does not mean much in the long-term.
Per the World Meteorological Organization: "[CO2] remains in the atmosphere and oceans for centuries. This means that the world is committed to continued climate change regardless of any temporary fall in emissions due to the Coronavirus epidemic."
BUT this does not mean any efforts we make do not matter. The goal is to MITIGATE climate change, not prevent it altogether.
In only a matter of weeks, the dramatic changes that can occur from an environmental perspective are evident. So there is no reason once the world reopens, which it will, countries cannot quickly implement measures to reduce the level of various pollutants and do what is possible to mitigate climate change and limit the damage we have already caused to our planet.
Do not get me wrong: I am super skeptical any of this will occur. In this day and age where science is looked at with fear and mistrust as if it were a form of sorcery, I have major doubts our country, let alone the world, will be willing to do what is necessary.
These major changes will need to occur for there to be any sustainable, long-term change. But in the meantime, we can all do our small part as individuals to contribute in any way possible, regardless if mandated or not.
Not too long ago, I read a meme that went something like this:
COVID-19 is the vaccine for Mother Earth. And humans are the virus.
And the question is: does the world have any chance to prove the creator of this meme wrong?