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Has mother nature decided it’s time to reset the game?

The canals of Venice appear to be crystal clear, wild animals are exploring the empty streets of some of the world’s biggest cities, and skylines are clearing up in cities around the world notorious for air pollution. As people across the globe are forced into lockdown due to COVID-19, images of the environment reclaiming itself are sweeping the internet and people are debating the painful question: “Is COVID-19 nature’s way of fighting back?” 

The famous photos of unusually clean Venice canals with swans, dolphins, and fish returning to the waterways as a result of Italian quarantine procedures were some of the first images to spark this question. As the debate about human influence on our ecosystems blew up, jellyfish and octopus were spotted in the canals, and more bizarre cases of nature reclaiming itself emerged online.

Venice, Italy

Animals not only returned to their ecosystems as a result of lockdowns, they wandered our empty streets as well. While at first it was only deer, boars, horses, and sheep taking over the civilized world, even dangerous predators like bears, mountain lions, and wild pumas were caught prowling in the streets. Wild boar have descended from the hills around Barcelona while sika deer are nosing their way around deserted metro stations of Nara, Japan. Gangs of wild turkeys have been strutting the streets of Oakland, California, while a puma has turned up in the center of the Chilean capital, Santiago. In the United States, coyotes have been sighted in normally crowded areas of Chicago, Illinois, and San Francisco, California.

Sika Deer pretending to be the Beatles in Nara Japan

Coyote stalking the streets of San Francisco

Above many of these barren streets are clearer, bluer skies. As economic activity has stalled and stock markets have tumbled, pollution rates and carbon emissions have improved significantly. So much so that blue skies are seen without the usual barrier of smog in Los Angeles, Shanghai, and Beirut, and Northern India. The inverse relationship between economic productivity and environmental quality has been on display before. The financial crash of 2008-09 led to an overall dip in emissions of 1.3%. But this quickly rebounded by 2010 as the economy recovered, leading to an all-time high in emissions.

Clear skies in Los Angeles, California

Blue Skies in Shanghai, China

The Clear Skyline of Beirut, Lebanon

The Himalayas visible from Northern India for the first time in 30 years.

As the debate about human influence on the environment blew up in heated exchanges on the internet, others dared to take the question further by asking “Are we the virus of the Earth and Coronavirus is nature’s vaccine?”  Many quickly entertained the question by saying something along the lines of “Mother Earth is grounding us in our homes – much like a mom grounding her children for making a mess and refusing to clean it up.” Of course when things get too heated on the internet, memes are sent to cool everyone down. The “nature is healing” meme features some brilliant parodies of the debate. Check out some of the Embee team’s favorites:

Lime scooters returning to rivers

Cows returning to the sea

Birds returning to the trees!

Cookies returning to their sewing kits

A global pandemic that is claiming hundreds of thousands of people’s lives isn’t the most cordial way to bring up the discussion of environmental change, especially as millions of American lives have changed for the worse since the onset of COVID-19. When humans across the world are forced to reckon with the reality that there is an inverse relationship between economic prosperity and environmental sustainability — perhaps now is a good time to talk about how we can adjust our collective behavior as a species to avoid future natural disasters and pandemics.

Embee media wants to send its highest praise to all of the health care workers, delivery drivers, grocers, and everyone on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic. Your actions saved millions of lives and did not go unnoticed.