A Quarantine's Benefit
By Isa Taranto
The negative impacts of quarantine and the COVID-19 pandemic are undeniable. This unprecedented health, economic, social and physiological crisis the world is facing is very alarming, and has shaken the way we live, make contact, travel, and even what we wear. As a consequence, these impacts seem to be divulged and deeply explored by the media, and that has been the case for months - I don’t know about you, but, even though this is an important topic to be aware about, I am already tired of reading news about this disease, especially negative and tragic ones. So, I believe it is important to highlight the fact that for all the obvious negative impacts, there is also a unique side benefit of COVID-19: the relief of the “burden” we impose on the environment.
Quarantine measures have been imposed throughout the globe, in different forms and extents, present in the majority of countries affected by the coronavirus as a way of trying to diminish its transmission. Now, as the Brazilian population gradually returns to work, the economy begin to recover, and we adapt to (the new) normality, it is important to recognise the measure’s effect not only on day-to-day lives, but on the changes caused by it on the bigger picture, so to speak. Due to the isolation, many people were or are restricted from moving around, whether by imposition and lockdowns, or by health concerns. And this decrease in the traffic of people, all around the world, has created an opportunity for the environment to “breathe” and develop a more healthy and stable condition, as that constant cycle of pollution and disposal we practice has been slowed down - and in some cases even completely interrupted. It is interesting to notice that the biggest shift can be observed in pollution (especially related to water and the air), as well in CO2 emissions, which have decreased sharply.
Jakarta, Indonesia, in 2019 (left) and 2020 during quarantine (right)
And this unintended consequence can be proven by data: the Earth Overshoot Day - the calculation of how many days annually it takes for humanity to consume more than the Earth can regenerate and provide - this year was August the 22nd, according to the WWF, 24 days after last year’s. That indicates that quarantine has extended the durability of the land and the resources we take from it - instead of being even sooner, as the pattern seemed to be up until this year. Beyond that, the International Energy Agency has stated that this year, we have reached the lowest level of carbon dioxide (air pollution and climate change’s main agent) since 2010, and this will be the sharpest and lowest decrease ever recorded.
New Delhi, India, in 2019 (left) and 2020 during quarantine (right)
Beyond the environmental conditions themselves, animals are also being highly benefited from the fact that the human occupants of their habitats are staying at home. There have been many examples of different species that have “invaded” cities - such as boars in Barcelona and goats in a town in Whales -, and many are thriving and reproducing more, as one of their main threats have been temporarily removed. In Rio de Janeiro, for example, many beaches were closed because of the ongoing quarantine, and that has allowed endangered sea turtles to reach and reproduce in those places. Therefore, our absence represents, for the animal kingdom, a relief.
The fact is that 2020 is an exception - a weird, almost-ending and sometimes desperating exception -, but we can learn from it. The “lesson” I choose to take from this year is that no matter how horrible a situation seems to be, there might be something about it that can be interpreted as a side benefit. And maybe that side benefit can bring relief, joy, or even a little bit of hope for all of the people and places involved - including the environment.