Emily Berry
Staff reporter

As positive cases of COVID-19 grow to substantial numbers around the world, more countries and states have issued lock down or stay-at-home orders.

With these orders less people are traveling abroad, driving vehicles, or using public transportation.  Rick Cowlishaw, professor of biology said, “Right now, social distancing and confinement measures are all we have to confront the pandemic.”

Due to this major reduction of travel and activity outside, scientists have started to see a change in the environment.

With a large majority of people around the world staying indoors, planes and other modes of transportation have not been utilized as often.  This has resulted in earths air quality improving over the past few months.  Clearer skies can be seen around the world; smog has dissipated in India and Indonesia revealing blue skies and not the normal day-to-day gray. 

Patrick Ross, professor of biology; division of natural sciences and mathematics chair, states, “From the information that I have been able to gather through the internet, a number of areas on the planet have seen increased air and water quality.  This undoubtedly due to the dramatic drop in both car travel and industrial activity due to all the stay at home orders across the world.”

Because of the spread of the virus some people believe that COVID-19 is nature’s way of fighting back to improve itself without human interaction.  Cowlishaw said, “It would seem, a line was crossed, one dalliance too many; her patience waned and Mother Nature said, ‘Ah, well, alright then’ and snap, like that, she got our attention.  A reminder of who, at the end of the day, is in charge.  The coronavirus is as much a message as a pathogen, as much a kick in the pants as a pandemic.  Nature is surely teaching us something, but are we learning?”

The opposing viewpoint of this is that the Coronavirus is just another pandemic that the world has to go through such as it did with SARS and there is no scientific evidence that this was natures doing but was mans.  “As human activity continue to encroach upon wild areas, we will continue to encounter new viruses and other pathogens which are likely to pose a threat to our species.  Also, as our population size increases and the density of urban populations increase, the transmissibility of any pathogen will increase, making any new disease more likely to become a pandemic,” said Ross.

COVID-19 has not just affect the environment, but also the animal kingdom.  Recently wild animals have been seen in cities and urban areas normally populated only by humans.  Goats roaming in public areas of North Wales, jellyfish in the canals in Venice, wild deer in Sir Lanka, and peacocks on the streets of Spain. 

We are mainly seeing effects on land animals, but there is no evidence for marine life.

Ross said, “The primary negative impacts of human activity on marine life are not likely to show changes on a short time scale.  Populations tend to take time to recover.  Also, one of the key harmful effects of human activity are the result of long term climatic change, which is unlikely to reverse itself from a few months of quarantines and shut downs.”

It has been four months since the United States confirmed its first positive case of COVID-19 and it may be too early to tell what effects or impact human restrictions will have on the environment.  Jason Speegle, director of Green Team, said, “A month time frame is way too short to determine whether the overall environment has improved or worsened during the COVID outbreak. Certainly, with people traveling less and certain industries shut down, that is going to have a positive impact due to less pollution and fewer resources being utilized.”

Cowlishaw said, “Now is not the time to simply wait for this to pass, and anyways, that is not who you are. You are builder. You don’t wait for things to get done; you find out what needs to be done and go do it, go build it.  The SC experience has equipped you with a toolkit filled with hard and soft skills that are needed for this moment.  With that toolkit at the ready, I challenge you to own the moment; to learn about our situation; to listen to and read from the experts to see our situation for what it really is and how it will play out.”

Emily Berry reported on this story from her home in Cimarron, Kansas.