The outbreak of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, around the world has left a lot of people in a state of panic, drastically hurt our global economy, killed people, and it’s been an all-round unmitigated disaster. BUT there is a silver lining to this massive cloud descending over our planet…
Last week, images of the canals in Venice, with crystal clear waters, occupied by swans and dolphins, returning to a state of nature that has been long forgotten, went viral through social media.
This was followed by an even more remarkable story about drunken elephants that passed out in a tea garden in China.
So, allow me to be the bearer of bad news here… those stories are fake.
According to National Geographic it is not unusual for elephants to come through that village in Yunnan Province, China. The same story also says that the swans that are in the images in Venice are often found in the canals of Burano, which is a small island that forms part of the greater Venice metropolitan area. The dolphins in the photos were actually taken in the Mediterranean island of Sardinia, hundreds of miles away from Venice .
Fake news debunking aside, there certainly has been a genuine, credible environmental improvement in China, where air pollution has been drastically reduced as a result of the nation’s lockdown.
And, while the stories about dolphins and swans were fake, the news about canal waters clearing up are all true. Here is an actual image of Venetian canals:
So, even if it took entire cities shutting down to prove it, we have shown that mitigating pollution is possible if we put the right efforts in, put a halt to the appropriate industries and basically make radical changes to our lifestyles. That’s the good news. The bad news is that when this whole crisis ends one day (we hope!), normal human activity will return along with our disgusting treatment of our environment. The smog will rise, the waters will go murky again…
The WORST news is this: climate change is far slower moving than pollution. A couple months of quarantine, a total shutdown of all fossil fuel burning industry is not going to be enough when the day comes that we have to face the reality that we’ve created for ourselves. By the time we’ve changed every animal migration habit (which I believe is responsible for the COVID outbreak in the first place – not Chinese eating habits, to all the racists out there – but that’s a story for a different day); by the time we’ve got more dramatic weather catastrophes like the Australian and Amazonian wildfires, hurricanes in Puerto Rico, and typhoons in the Philippines than we can count; by the time the climate crisis that scientists have been warning us about for decades hits, going underground won’t change a thing. We can clean up the environment all we want, but it will take decades, if not centuries, to pay back the historical debt that we have been incurring with Mother Nature since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution.
So, exactly what point is this narcissistic, self-righteous, condescending writer trying to make?
Hopefully we learn a lesson from this… the lesson that carbon neutrality is possible, that we won’t all die if we put the economy on the back-burner in the interest of preserving life itself. It’s a lesson that we need to make radical lifestyle changes and that, if we do so, the world will thank us one day, with cleaner air and clearer waters. All it takes is a kick up the butt, for someone (or something) to force action, and we might be able to change our lifestyles in ways that entire generations will thank us for in the future.
And who knows? Perhaps one day we will see swans and dolphins swimming through the canals of Venice and elephants stumbling through small Chinese villages as drunk as a sailor lost in a vat of rum.