A Stagnant World Part One: Nature and COVID-19

Postgraduate Amina Ghezal shares her thoughts and observations living in the new COVID-19 era as a student. In a captivating two-part series, in this article, she explores how nature has bounced back during the lockdown measures brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Coronavirus World (Photo credit Miroslava Chrienova)

The university campus where I am based is located amidst a large garden which consists of rich greenery and ecological diversity. Every day, I walk through the garden on my way to campus. While on the way, I walk through a large green space which looks like an open garden with different trees, green species and a nearby water stream. During the day people walk around the area to go to school, work, to walk their dogs or just to enjoy the pleasant scenery. There are different kinds of animals around the garden, but they are hardly spotted during the daytime with the disruption from people. I remember accounts from my friends who accidentally stumbled upon badgers or other animals during the early morning or late evening hours.

One of the gardens of Exeter Penryn campus (Photo credit Amina)

During the summer, the student population almost disappears from campus and the entire place becomes vacant. I usually return home by dusk to enjoy the serene moment of the day and the gradual sunset. During that quiet time, I frequently notice the lively new discovered nature of animals in the campus garden again. Rabbits hopping freely and birds resting peacefully on the stair poles.

The animals exhibit no fear or apprehension, just a relaxed state of being. This uncharacteristic behaviour has captured my attention multiple times. I stopped several times to enjoy the quiet scene and to think, why can’t we spot animals being free and relaxed in this manner when we are around during the day? Are we that omnipresent and dominant to the extent of depriving other creatures of free movement? What would happen to the environment and the other creatures if we cease to have a presence?

The quiet, student-less summers I would observe and the subsequent response from wildlife has soon become an international phenomenon. The past few months since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak have seen the absence of human movement and disruption to habitats. The animals have been free to do almost as they please. It got me thinking… what does COVID-19 and the resulting lockdown measurements tell us about our impact on the environment and the other species on the planet?

One of the gardens of Exeter Penryn campus (Photo credit Amina)

Covid-19: A fatal virus that has claimed lives and vastly restricted human movement.

Since the outbreak of COVID-19, everything has seemingly stopped. The world that the late John Urry described “as if the world is on the move”, has ceased to move in recent months. Currently, all human movement, industrial and economic activities have halted or significantly slowed, as millions of people are confined to their homes. In this time, the outside world has become almost vacant and silent for the first time in centuries or probably in recent human history. People work and study from home with minimal contact with one another and the outside world. Since March in the UK, in a matter of a few weeks, we became inconveniently entrapped in our houses. With reduced travel, our carbon footprint has reduced. In this respect, pollution rates (especially air pollution) have dropped significantly in many places and wild animals have been spotted roaming streets, open seas and unusual places.

For the first time in centuries, nature became free and the environment became cleaner… without us.

A busy road in London (Image credit: Canva)

Positives of COVID-19: An Environmental Eye-opener

The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown measurements have seemingly generated unexpected and remarkable environmental changes (that I may dub with caution- as positive changes).

To elaborate more, many examples of clear skies, reduced levels of air pollution and roaming wildlife in urbanized areas infused the internet, leaving people amazed and in awe. Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels underwent a notable decrease on the global scale too notably due to the halt of several industries and reduction of motor and air traffic around the world. Consequently, average air pollution levels have decreased for the first time since recordings began in 2000.

Air pollution is indeed a major health risk hazard which leads to countless deaths and respiratory-related illnesses around the world. An example of that, living in Delhi is comparable to smoking six cigarettes a day.  In India, where people suffer from fatal levels of air pollution, there have been claims that the Himalayas were seen by some Indians living in cities for the first time during the pandemic.

Lions nap on empty roads in Kruger Nation park. (Image credit: Richard Sowry/Kruger National Park)

As for Animals and wildlife, there have been interesting sightings of wild animals in cities, streets and unusual places. Wild animals are rarely spotted in urban or metropolitan areas. Therefore, the absence of people and traffic led animals to move freely and curiously. Images taken in South Africa’s popular Kruger National Park show a pride of lions napping in the middle of a road, which is unusual in normal times due to traffic from tourists.

Mountain goats roamed streets in Wales, as people remained. (Credit: Getty Image)

Unfortunately, these positive changes are likely to vanish as lockdown measurements begin to be lifted and industries resume their usual activities. I fear the pollution rates will surpass the previous rates as industries surge in activities to increase the production and money lost in 2020.

What’s more, I fear governments will restart their fossil fuel industries, because it can provide the fast economic clawback they want.

I know I’m not alone in fearing the negative impact which our activities will likely inflict on the Earth again, once we resume our daily activities. Next week I will explore our human habitats and lessons we can learn from this pandemic.

About the Author: Amina Ghezal is a postgraduate student, studying Politics at The University of Exeter. Her PhD research is in international migration and place attachment and she is especially interested in the Tuvaluan migrant communities in New Zealand. Amina has written for a few online magazines and student-led magazines such as ‘Her Campus Cornwall’, ‘The Falmouth Anchor’ and ‘Vitriol’. Amina loves books, writing, volunteering, and photography.

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