Sustainability Column: Dolphins in Venice

Italy has been one of the countries hit hardest by the coronavirus. Here, nearly all economic activity, including tourism, has stopped. This seems like bad news for Venice, a huge tourist destination, but there is one caveat: their canals are clear for the first time in recent history. There are even viral videos circulating social media of dolphins swimming through the canals of Venice; it’s a small source of hope for Italians devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic. These videos were later debunked by National Geographic, but the big picture still stands: nature is repairing itself. All around the world, emissions of greenhouse gasses and other pollutants have decreased drastically. From Beijing to Los Angeles, cities are no longer clouded by smog. The highways are empty during rush hour and power plants are working at lower capacity to lessen the spread of the virus between workers. NASA reported a 30 percent drop in the amount of nitrogen dioxide (a byproduct of burning fossil fuels) over China between January and February. 

The question here is whether or not these drastic shifts in emissions will stay. The answer, sadly, is probably not. With China’s population now slowly recovering from COVID-19, emissions have been rising again already. We can expect to see the same thing here in the United States whenever the country recovers from the virus. Enjoy the clean air while it lasts. 

 The canals of Venice are clearer than normal right now, but what does this mean? The environment has not healed itself to the point of having dolphins return into the city. Nevertheless, one can hope that this will inspire the public to care more about environmental stewardship. Venetian canals are usually murky and polluted from gondolas full of tourists, and the use of motorboats now exacerbates that problem. Hopefully, after this pandemic,stricter laws will be put in place to protect the waterways of Venice, now that people have a newfound appreciation for them. This sentiment can be made applicable to the whole world. While business as usual must return after social distancing and quarantine restrictions end, this doesn’t mean we have to return to the same levels of pollution. 

While in isolation, wherever that is, people are enjoying the outdoors more than ever before. In fact, the Appalachian Trail had to ask the public to stop hiking its trails last week after they saw unprecedented numbers of people using them. Those who had gone outside to escape the masses ended up coming into contact with so many other people on the trails that it was no longer deemed safe. Many people who had not typically been interested in the outdoors are now appreciating it, and an appreciation lasts a lot longer than a pandemic. While the dolphins haven’t returned yet, with enough work to protect the environment, they might. So while you’re still in quarantine, give others a six-foot radius, but go get some fresh air.