text and photography
by Rex Sample
What’s that sound? It is silence, as more than 200 million Americans have been ordered to shelter in place. The silver lining of these orders is that the absence of humans is having a restorative impact on the environment.
Los Angeles County has seen some of its cleanest air since 1995, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Some of this is due to people sheltering in place; some of this is also due to the frequent rainstorms and cool weather. It is a short-lived condition, because with the Southern California area warming up, the public’s turn coat response is to return to normal life despite the stay at home order.
Nevertheless, the air is cleaner as traffic continues to be reduced. Air quality on average has not exceeded the good air quality rating of 50 particle material (PM) since February 1. IQAir, a Swiss company, monitors air quality in cities across the world. Recently their maps have shown a drastic decrease in air pollutants in the United States due to the shelter in place action. Particle material is a mixture of extremely small particles and liquid droplets that sit in the air according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency.
A return back to normal daily life will reverse the benefits of reduced traffic and will present more health-related hazards to those who are at a higher risk says Michael Wright, a member of the EPA and University of La Verne biology alumnus.
Air pollution is not normal, as those who have traveled to forests or beaches know. Many Southern California residents have grown up in a world where smog is normal. Nevertheless, it is not natural and can cause harm to our health. This shelter at home situation we face now is restorative and provides time to reflect not only on our own life, but also on how we impact the ecological niches that surround us.
Before the novel coronavirus started tearing through the United States, there was a drastic drop in pollution in China, as one of the world’s industrial powerhouses put a halt on production. This drop in pollution is an effect of the social distancing, highlighting the daily impact the human race has on the environment. Each individual affects the earth more than she thinks. This break in widespread pollution has allowed the environment to take a breather from the constant destruction humans cause, even though we are a species who claims to be the world’s caretaker.
The response to the epidemic effects more than the air we breathe, it also affects the land we walk on. There has been a similar decrease in seismic noise—the vibrations and surface waves that rattle our windows and make for a constant low hum in the city. Although we might not feel it, the earth’s crust is always moving, and our daily life is a large contributor to the seismic noise.
Across the world, there has been a decrease in seismic noise, which is the noise or vibrations created by cars, trains, buses and people moving about going to work, or otherwise enjoying their daily life. Celeste Labedz, a graduate student in geophysics at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California has reported a shocking decrease in seismic noise in Los Angeles just like what was witnessed in New York City, also hit hard by the virus during this time of crisis.
This is great news for the wildlife, because the product of our daily life can be harmful to their health. This noise pollution can lead to a change in natural behaviors, consequently, a negative effect on their quality of life, especially for the marine animals that rely heavily on their sense of hearing to hunt and communicate. Bats and Dolphins use echolocation which can be disrupted by the constant noise of ship sonar and air guns searching for the next place to stop and drill for oil. This has turned the ocean floor into a noise battleground that adversely affects marine life. Just like our hearing, their senses can be damaged due to excess noise. While we have the luxury of turning it off or down when it is too loud, animals respond adversely to the environment around them.
Our environment revolves around our lifestyle. By taking refuge inside and practicing social distancing, our environment is improving, both for us and for other creatures. Animals are able to return to their primal instinct in places like Yosemite National Park, where black bears now claim the former recreational areas. Herds of deer roam through Webb Canyon near the Claremont/La Verne border in the middle of the day. Red tailed hawks take back to the sky and hunt in an unobstructed environment where people would otherwise be constantly walking through their hunting territory. Animals are starting to come out of their hiding places, forgetting about the threats that people pose. For them, it is a welcome return to an old normal.
This is not only a localized response. It is happening around the world. Jaguars, crocodiles and turtles are returning to their territory, reminding us that our hands are heavy on their survival. Their response is nothing more than a natural instinct. But what does this mean once we return to our normal life? The decrease in human traffic across the planet could lead to an increase in roadkill because wildlife has simply been able to live their life with little obstruction. In many ways, putting a pause on society reverses past animal trespasses, and it is up to us as a race to learn from our mistakes.
The pause on normal life does have its downside. Many people now cook for themselves, creating yet another speed bump in their lives. According to Business Insider, the average American spends roughly $3,300 when dining out each year. Now, it is not that simple to eat at your favorite restaurant, although restaurants are catering to their consumers offering take-out and free delivery. Both as a civic duty and as a food production survival, we have supported restaurants during these tough times. Yet, sadly, when purchasing takeout food, we are producing more plastic waste. Jay, Jones, professor of biology and biochemistry at the University of La Verne, says before the pandemic made a local impact, he would take his own containers to restaurants to reduce the amount of waste produced by single use containers and bags.
This is not the only issue that has arisen from our everyday waste. Taking health precautions into their own hands, Americans have started to implement the use of latex gloves into their daily lives. But disposing of them is not one of their worries. When going for a walk, I find myself counting all of the gloves littering the streets. One of the issues is that people do not care nor know where the drains lead to. Nevertheless, if you have ever walked the beach then you know the answer.
Are latex gloves the new norm? More than anything this is a time of need, the need to ramp up cleanliness and not to riddle the streets with our personal protective equipment. As a human race, we have become more and more lazy in thinking it is OK to litter even though it is harmful to others’ health and the wildlife roaming the streets.
The hustle and bustle we call normal life has instantly become a distant memory due to the recent actions to mitigate the spread of coronavirus. Much like our response to the current situation we have been presented with a new deck of cards, and it is up to us on how we use them. Do we just throw it all away, or do we adopt and adapt with a new game plan to the new situation and change our way of life for the better.