Air and water quality in various places in the world are improving during the pandemic. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

As the world struggles to cope with a health crisis, the Earth is healing.

Remove people from the equation and the environment begins to heal herself. Air quality from the San Francisco Bay Area to Fresno and thousands of miles away to the Himalayas is better today than it was a month ago. People in India for the first time in decades are seeing the famous mountain range from 100 miles away.

In China, where the COVID-19 virus originated, air pollution dropped so dramatically it was recorded on satellite images by NASA. Scientists at NASA said the Wuhan area first saw the reduction in nitrogen dioxide pollution before the same results spread across the country.

People are not driving or flying as much. Factories are pumping out fewer pollutants as their workloads have been curtailed.

The canals of Venice, Italy, are clearer than most can remember. With less boat traffic, sediment is staying at the bottom and not being churned to the top. It will be interesting to see if the water of Lake Tahoe benefits from fewer boats considering this time of year boat traffic is minimal. Boat launches have been closed during the coronavirus crisis because government officials believed boat inspections should not be taking place now.

It’s appropriate Earth Day comes during this pandemic. It’s also significant that it was 50 years ago that April 22 was designated Earth Day. It is considered the birth of the environmental movement as we know it.

On a trail last week, that is walking distance from my home, two coyotes started following me and AJ. Were they stalking us or reclaiming their forest? Black bears, coyotes and bobcats are out in force in Yosemite National Park. It’s not that there are more animals, it’s that they are roaming in the open without people around since the park closed because of the virus. California is not alone in this phenomena. In South Africa’s Kruger National Park lions have been seen napping on the roads. Now is the time of year so many animals emerge from their winter slumber. Without people around, they are venturing places where we usually are – like streets. All the more reason to be diligent about not leaving human food out that could be accessible by these wild animals.

Clearly, people are impacting the environment in negative ways. Now is the time to think about how we could make these changes sustainable, long lasting. Why go back to how things were? We were breathing that nasty air. It was getting into our water supply, contaminating our soil, and the foods we eat. We need to make changes individually (maybe work from home one day a week or more going forward), regionally (better mass transit?), as a nation (flights must have a certain number of seats filled to fly?), and globally (suggestions?).

It is alarming President Donald Trump has ramped up his hatred for the environment by rolling back environmental regulations during this pandemic. It’s one of the consistencies throughout his presidency–disregard for the environment. Last week the order came down for the Environmental Protection Agency to loosen regulations for oil and coal-fired power plants when it comes to releasing mercury and other toxic metals.

As the New York Times reported April 16, “Over the past few weeks as the nation struggled with the coronavirus, the administration has also rushed to loosen curbs on automobile tailpipe emissions, opted not to strengthen a regulation on industrial soot emissions and moved to drop the threat of punishment to companies that kill birds ‘incidentally’.”

The Trump administration has also banned the U.S. Forest Service from conducting controlled burns in California, Oregon and Washington during the pandemic. This is a tool to reduce the risk of wildfires. Wildfire season in California could be deadly again as the state looks to be in another drought.

“I have no understanding as to why they made that decision,” Thom Porter, CalFire director, told Reuters. “We’re very much in support of continuing our fuel-management projects. We see those as critical to protecting lives and property.”

It’s time to listen to the scientists and other experts to preserve the health of our Earth.

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