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The Himalayas
Photograph: Shutterstock

It’s official: Planet Earth has benefited from humans being in lockdown

Ellie Walker-Arnott
Written by
Ellie Walker-Arnott

The current world situation hasn’t been all bad. Sure, a lot of us are scared, lonely and confined to our homes. But some people have relished the opportunity to reconnect with the natural world, and, actually, the natural world is having a pretty nice time, too.

Since a large part of the world population went into lockdown, there have been reports of animals frolicking around in spaces previously dominated by human activity. There are deer in London, ducks wandering the streets of Paris and orcas swimming right up close to the city of Vancouver in Canada. Lions are lounging around on roads usually populated with safari-ing tourists, while a Yosemite ranger described life for bears in the deserted National Park right now as similar to a ‘party’. Check out these sassy goats who continue to rampage around a silent seaside town in Wales.

Meanwhile, scientists reported that the decrease in traffic and general ‘human hum’ has lead to the earth beneath our feet literally moving less. The quietening of the surface of the planet has meant that those scientists can pick up more from their instruments, like tiny earthquakes that would usually have been lost in the colossal noise we people make. 

Cancelled flights have sure mucked with our holiday plans, but there are positives for the planet. That, as well as a decrease in transport and industry, has contributed to the sharp drop in air pollution seen across China, the US and Europe. These compelling images show one startling outcome of large populations being under strict lockdowns. 

Here you can see a significant drop in the levels of nitrogen dioxide, a gas that comes from the burning of fossil fuels, over China during the last few months.

Nitrogen dioxide levels over China, 2020
Photograph: Wikimedia Commons

The same can be seen over France and northern Italy in Europe.

Nitrogen dioxide levels over Europe, 2020
Photograph: European Space Agency

And over northeastern USA. 

Nitrogen dioxide air levels over USA, 2020
Photograph: NASA

There have even been reports of people in India being able to see the Himalayas for the first time in their lifetimes, thanks to a dramatic increase in air quality over the last few weeks.

While this all seems like good news (and we all need a little right now, so we will take it), it is worth noting that these dips are small fry in comparison to what is needed to turn the tide of climate change and protect our planet.

‘The expected cut in emissions, for example, is still less than what scientists say is needed every year this decade to avoid disastrous climate impacts for much of the world,’ reports The Guardian

Some good has come of our sudden change in behaviour during 2020, but largely the environmental problems we’re facing globally do still exist. The world’s reaction to this health threat has proven that we are capable of adapting our behaviour in a way that benefits the planet, but the real test will be what happens when this crisis is over. 

Want to be a change for good? 

How to be plastic-free at home during lockdown

29 small ways to save the planet 

The best sustainable supermarkets in London 

8 ways to live more sustainably in Singapore 

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