When I lost my job a few years back because the company had been bought up by a bigger company, and then again when we lost the place we had been living for so many years, a lot of people said well, you know, sometimes when there’s something that needs to change and you can’t seem to change it on your own, the universe steps in to change it for you.
I was reminded of that when we started to see some of the positive environmental effects associated with the coronavirus.
In the canals of Venice, Italy, for instance, small fish and dolphins were suddenly seen swimming, and swans were floating in what, overnight, became crystal-clear waters once the boat traffic was slowed. I was there last summer and I can tell you the water in those canals was far from crystal-clear. In fact, it looked more like the oily brown gunk gathered in the old rusty paint cans behind our shed.
Then there are the satellite images from China, which show a sharp decrease in air pollution since factory production was halted because of the virus. Specifically, nitrogen dioxide, which was present at high levels less than eight weeks ago, is now barely visible in the atmosphere.
As of this writing, more than 3,300 people had died in China since the onset of the virus, which is tragic and terrible, but researchers at Stanford University estimate that more than 20 times that number of deaths have likely been prevented in these past eight weeks due to the reduction in air pollution associated with the shutdown of industry.
More than 1.5 million people a year die from air pollution in China. It’s not just China. It’s estimated that more than 7 million people a year, across the globe, die from breathing particles released into the air by vehicles and heavy industry. Another roughly 5 million die from water pollution, including water-borne diseases.
The numbers vary depending on the source, but easily more than 10 million people a year die from pollution. That’s almost as much, each and every year, as the total number of British, American, French, Italian, German and Japanese soldiers who died in all of World War ll. And those figures don’t even include deaths caused by toxins from pharmaceutical waste, plastics, lead, mercury and the hormone-disrupting chemicals in pesticides and fertilizers.
I don’t think this is some great revelation. We all know, whether we’re willing to admit it or not, the dangers posed by chemical toxins in the air, water and soil, but time after time, in place after place, jobs and the economy take precedence over the environment and people’s health.
Some people are up-in-arms, claiming this virus is an act of biochemical warfare. I say, we’ve been under biochemical siege for decades by the likes of Monsanto, BASF, DowDupont, Union Carbide, Honeywell, Alcoa, Bayer, all those chemical plants along the Gulf of Mexico, and maybe worst of all, the Department of Defense.
How many years now have scientists been telling us we have a short window of time to drastically change our behavior if we want life on this planet to continue? Yet, except for very limited exceptions — mostly by conscientious individuals trying to do their part — governments and corporations aren’t doing much about. They talk the talk but it remains, always, a secondary issue to economic considerations.
Which brings me back to my original point about when change needs to happen but you can’t seem to muster the strength or resolve to initiate the change on your own, how the Universe, or in this case the planet, steps in to change it for you.
Could it be that this is Earth just trying to save itself?
Ron Colone can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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