Quarantine Chronicles Day 52: Some good news out of COVID—naturally

What do you want today, good news about COVID-19, or bad? Good? You’re a liar. We do a story about a kind old retiree who makes whirligigs and fixes the neighborhood kids’ bikes out of his garage and post it at the same time as a story about Timmy falling in a well and it’s a blowout, clickwise, in favor of Timmy’s little quandary.

But, OK, I’ll play your game and give you some good news regarding COVID-19. The disease, you may recall, caused governments in more than 50 countries to ask or tell about 1.5 billion people to stay safe at home at various times as the disease spread around the world, right?

The order had several effects, many of them, if not most, tragic. But we’re not doing tragic today; you wanted good news.

It’s this: Factories closed or slowed down, hundreds of millions of cars off the road, cruise ships and airplanes docked and grounded … For years scientists have been begging the world’s leaders to slow down a bit or to clean up their country’s act considerably if we want life as we know it to continue on this planet, and yet all the dire metrics continued to creep up, for a variety of reasons that mostly have to do with politics, business and mankind’s lust for driving, flying and cruising outweighing any self-imposed surrender to sacrifices that would be necessary for even minimal compliance with science’s recommendations toward warding off the effects of climate change and pollution.

With the worldwide lockdown orders, environmental health and good practices have been forced upon us. I don’t know about you, but I haven’t put any gas in my car since early March. It’s practically reverted back to showroom condition, except for the fact that I haven’t washed it since Valentine’s Day.

And with fewer cars on the road, planes in the sky, and cruise ships on the sea, the drop in bad air has been, ironically, breathtaking.

A report by the International Energy Agency shows that greenhouse gas emissions are dropping at “an unprecedented rate, almost twice as large as all previous declines since the end of World War II combined.”

In Delhi, India, a perennial world leader in air pollution, levels of PM2.5 (fine particulate matter that’s considered the deadliest air pollutant) and gas nitrogen dioxide have fallen more than 70 percent.

A study by IQAir, looking at 10 major cities around the globe comparing lockdown figures with figures from the same period in 2019, showed a decrease in PM2.5 levels of 31% in Los Angeles, 25% in New York, 32% in Sao Paulo, 34% in Mumbai and 54% in Seoul.

Anecdotal evidence is also clear. No one can argue that the sky is a bit bluer, the air more hospitable in Long Beach during these past seven or eight weeks.

In the Punjab state of India, people can see the Himalayas at a distance of 125 miles for the first time in nearly 30 years.

Animals of all stripes have been availing themselves of this novel new planet. Wildcats sleeping in trees in Boulder, Colorado; coyotes (never really very far away as Nextdoor will tell you), padding through the streets of San Francisco in daylight; penguins wobbling down Cape Town roads in South Africa; wild mountain goats storming the town of Llandudno, Wales.

In locales as disparate as Florida and Thailand, leatherback turtles have been enjoying unpopulated beaches and are nesting and laying eggs in historical numbers.

At one beach in Thailand, wildlife experts have discovered 11 nests, the most they’ve seen in 20 years, the last five of which they found no nests at all.

And on the 9.5-mile Juno Beach in Florida, marine researchers have found 76 leatherback nests, a “significant increase” over the last several years.

So, lives lost, businesses ruined, jobs vanished, manufacturers crippled, a historic economic and health disaster. Was it worth it for some equally historic clean air and wild animals happily frolicking in the streets, beaches and oceans?

Well, it depends on what sort of animal you are and what kind of planet you want to live in or leave behind.

And, whether it’s been worth it or not, you asked for some good news.

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Tim Grobaty is a columnist and opinions editor for the Long Beach Post. He began his newspaper career at the Press-Telegram in 1976 as a copy boy and moved on to feature writer, music critic, TV critic, copy editor and daily columnist. He’s the author of several books, including I’m Dyin’ Here, and he lives in Long Beach.
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