Gifts from a Pandemic #6: The Earth is Getting a Break (and it shows!)

As I look across the San Francisco Bay, the sky is crystal clear.

In the past, on warm clear days like this, there would have been a haze and a Spare The Air alert, warning us of poor air quality.

But all that has changed.

With the Coronavirus pandemic forcing us to stay in our homes, the earth is getting a break.

The other day, I was on the phone with a friend and she screamed because a bald eagle had just flown overhead.

This morning, the patch of grass behind our back door was matted down because something relatively large (we are guessing a fox) decided it was the perfect sleeping spot.

And, we have two bird nests, each tucked in eaves near our roof right near windows so we can watch from indoors as the Mama birds come and go, feeding young.

We have lots of wildlife here in California.

But this is different.

A friend who works as a volunteer at the local Marine Mammal Center said they are seeing record lows as far as marine mammals in need of rescue.

Then, of course, there are the widely publicized reports from all over the world, including the cleanest skies on record in China and India. (See more links below.)

While it might not last forever, it has been pretty profound to see the positive effects we can make on the earth in such a short amount of time.

A Child’s Story About Cleaning Up The Earth

Lately, I’ve been thinking of one of my favorite picture books from childhood.

Humor me for a bit here, this story is perfect for Earth Day.  (If you want more than 20 links on all the amazing changes happening in the environment, scroll down to the bottom.)

It started with the story of a child and her pet dog, playing together.

The child and dog loved each other very much.

The next few pages were filled with pictures of people littering.

Cars and buses polluted the air.

The sky got darker and darker, covered with smog.

The plants could not grow.

The puppy could not breathe well when her owner threw a ball.

Finally, all the animals got together.

They knew something had to be done.

They boarded a rocket and took off to another place, far away (I think it was the moon.)

Some of them didn’t want to go, especially the little puppy who was very sad to leave her owner.

But she knew it was the only way.

When the people woke up that morning, they were surprised to find all the animals were gone.

They missed their pets.

They missed the sound of the birds.

They missed seeing animals in the wild.

They were sad.

They realized the animals were right.

And so, they started cleaning things up.

They planted trees.

They walked instead of using their cars.

They picked up litter.

They made the world clean again.

From above, on the moon, the animals looked down and noticed things changing.

Slowly, the air around earth looked less smoggy.

It got brighter and brighter.

It started looking green and blue again.

Finally, it was so clean, the animals decided to give earth and people another chance.

They boarded the rocket again and returned to earth.

When they arrived home, the people were so happy.

Pets reunited with their owners.

The puppy and her owner happily ran and played.

Animals returned to the wild.

Everyone was so happy to be back together.

And the people never forgot.

I think the way those animals felt when they looked down from the moon is how many of us are feeling right now. (I wish I had saved that book because as much as I’ve tried to research it, I haven’t been able to find it again. If anyone knows the title, please let me know!).

Change Can Happen Fast

When I was a young girl, about the time of the publication of that book, my family moved from a small town near Lancaster, Pennsylvania to a suburb of Trenton, New Jersey near the Delaware River (which was recently honored as ‘River of the Year’)

My family would often go to Washington Crossing Park and fish, or swim in the river. I remember when we first moved there, the river was so dirty and polluted we wouldn’t eat the fish we caught, and we’d have to take showers right away after our swims. We’d also go to the beach (a.k.a the “shore”) and the water would be dirty and polluted.

Only a few years before our move, in the early 1970s, things in the U.S. were changing in a big way when it came to public sentiment and the environment.

The first Earth Day was celebrated in San Francisco.

President Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and NOAA and OSHA .

The Clean Water Act was formed

Lead in gasoline started to be regulated. President Jimmy Carter installed solar panels on the roof of the White House (which Reagan removed).

The changes, particularly the Clean Water Act directly improved things for our family, and changed my childhood.

My best high school memories include swimming with friends in the clear ocean waters and clean beaches on the Jersey shore, playing football and having picnics at The Washington Crossing Park, and swimming in the river. The clean-up of the Delaware River is often celebrated as one of the world’s best water clean-up stories.

Many years later, my husband Jim and I purchased our first home right on the Delaware River. After just a few decades of change, the difference both in the river and the Jersey shore was remarkable. The water was clear and clean. Tourism and property values soared.

I know we have a long way ahead and some of the earth’s problems could take a very long time to solve. However, this pandemic is reminding us how powerful nature is, and how fast change can happen if we are open to it.

Sometimes the only way we can learn is through firsthand, cellular experience. It can be difficult to feel like we are really making a difference when we recycle or compost, or choose to bike instead of drive and the rest of the world isn’t doing it along with us.

But when we feel as if we are part of something bigger, supported by other people and we start to see firsthand how the little things we are doing are making an impact, well, that’s different.

Why Not?

Everyone keeps talking about how things will go back to the way they were as the economy gets back up and running again.

But I can’t help but wonder why.

Why wouldn’t we all be more open to make changes after now knowing how quick and effective change can happen?

According to research, prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, only 3.6 percent of U.S. employees worked from home part-time or more. However, research also shows 56 percent of U.S. jobs could be done (at least partially) remotely.

Working remotely not only cuts down on air pollution and smog from commuting by car or public transportation, it can also cut down on the need for business-related air travel. An added perk is that it is a lot cheaper, which could come in handy at a time when the economy is in the tank.

But that’s not the only ah-ha happening.

For many of us, nature has become a whole lot more valuable, especially after being stuck in our houses for six weeks.

I can’t help but think a global consciousness is shifting that maybe, just maybe, we will carry with us long after this pandemic is passed. Maybe this will be one of the greatest silver linings of this pandemic.

Of course, improvements in the earth’s health can do nothing to soften how difficult the other consequences of Coronavirus are, especially if a loved has been taken from us, or we are suffering from the virus.

However, this is yet another unexpected gift we are all getting from this pandemic: The earth is getting a break. And we are reaping the benefits.

There is very good reason to feel hope, or at the very least, to be happy knowing that the air will be a little bit clearer during our next walk outside.

Happy Earth Day, everyone!

How Covid-19 Is Affecting the Environment (Links & Research)

Here are stories from all over the world about how the Coronavirus pandemic has been positively impacting the environment.

India is having its cleanest skies ever

China’s skies are blue for the first time in decades

30 percent decrease in pollution in Northeast U.S.

Coronavirus is having a great impact on the environment in Europe

6 Ways the Coronavirus is helping the environment in Europe

Air pollution is improving in Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York City

Covid-19 is improving air quality in San Francisco

Decreased nitrogen dioxide emissions and blue skies in California

China’s improved air quality is confirmed by these NASA photos

Less seismic vibrations in the upper earth’s crust are better for marine mammals, measured in Belgium, Los Angeles, London, New Jersey and France

Reduced noise vibration means less stressed whales and marine mammals

Sea turtles in Thailand are flourishing–largest number of turtle nests in two decades

Worldwide call to ban wet markets and the illegal poaching of wild animals, which caused Covid-19

Call to ban trafficking of rare, wild animals that leads to human disease and animal extinction

Animals are enjoying more space to roam, improving their well-being and health

Harvard study shows pollution leads to more deaths from the Coronavirus

Areas with more air pollution have more Coronavirus deaths

Liking what they see, people are more open to what can be done differently in the future to save the earth.

Even as the economy grows, the world may be more open to doing things differently when it comes to the environment

Experts predict good may come from the environmental benefits of Coronavirus

Pandemic side effects offer glimpse of better future for the Earth

How climate change and our global pandemic are linked

How our pandemic economic battle may help us fight climate change

Here’s what the improvements to our Earth’s environment look like from space

Will Covid have a lasting impact on the environment?

More articles Like This

You also may enjoy the other articles in this blog series on the unexpected gifts from Covid-19

Here are other related articles on

7 Lessons Almost Dying Taught Me About Living (and how that can help us get through this pandemic)

How Are You, Really?


Copyright © 2020, Laurie Smith, All rights reserved. Photo credits: Bruniewska/Shutterstock; Vladimir Jotov/Shutterstock

Please Comment and Share

If you have other links or examples of how the pandemic is helping the environment, or stories of your own on the topic, please inspire us all by sharing them in the comment section below. Thanks, and stay safe.

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