By the time you read this, September, the Cleanup month will have come to a close. World Cleanup Day which is on the 19th of September will have passed (We hope to have seen you there!). This article is not about cleaning up the plastic in our suburbs, locations and rivers, it is about how nature was able to clean up and repair itself during the lockdown caused by Covid 19.
After a few days of lockdown (level 5) around the world, the most amazing pictures and videos started to emerge on Social Media. Animals sharing common ground with cities and towns began to curiously creep out from the relative safety of Forests, Oceans, Wetlands, Bushveld, and Mountainous areas to investigate the silence. A Puma was spotted in downtown Santiago, Chile. Adorable Penguins warbled down the street in Simonstown in the Western Cape and Kashmiri goats were seen wandering through Llandudno in Wales.
Animals weren’t the only things people saw for the first time in ages in their cities and towns, in some parts of the world, people saw blue skies and smogless days. Let’s take a quick look at the science behind this reduction in air pollution caused by the lockdown.
Particulate Matter (PM) or particle pollution, is a mixture of solid particles and liquid droplets present in the atmosphere. The particles present in the air are so minute that you cannot view them without a microscope. PM is made up of different components, including acids (like sulfuric acid), inorganic compounds (such as ammonium sulfate, ammonium nitrate, and sodium chloride), organic chemicals, soot, metals, soil or dust particles, and biological materials (such as pollen and mould spores). The air we breathe indoors and outdoors always contains PM. Exposure to high concentrations of PM can result in several health problems including coughing and wheezing, asthma attacks, bronchitis, high blood pressure, heart attack, strokes and premature death. In short, the high concentration of the invisible PM in our air means more visible pollution.
According to a study, from the Presidency University, in West Bengal, India; “PM10* and PM2.5* concentrations reduced by about half in comparison to the pre-lockdown. NO2 and CO have also shown considerable decline during the lockdown. In transportation and industrial locations, air quality has improved close to 60%. The central and Eastern Delhi experienced a maximum improvement in air quality. On the 2nd and 4th day of lockdown, about 40% to 50% improvement in air quality”. This data clearly shows that inactivity by humans globally, allowed nature to start healing itself and reversing the damage caused by polluting, and the improvement was immediate.
South Africans are returning to work at their offices and factories, international travellers are boarding flights again. Taxis and cars are back on the road, this means that more pollution will be released into the atmosphere and the PM levels will rise once more. The animals will return to the safety of the terrain and the people of India will miss seeing the blue sky. I guess the question is what can be done to minimise the increase of PM?
By far, the best thing we can do is responsibly dispose of our garbage. Creating compost heaps can be done cheaply and easily. Separating and cleaning our plastic before disposal, makes life easier for reclaimers to separate what is recyclable, from that which ends up in landfills. The rest should be going into ecobricks, which is a great way to dispose of single-use plastic and keep it out of our water systems.
Most importantly, it is time for us to stop being egocentric and behave in a way that treats all humans, animals and plants with respect and equality. This planet is home to us all and contrary to popular belief, it is not just here for “man to rule as he sees fit”, not anymore. That doctrine was created at a time when the population of the earth was probably 1% of what it is today.
If you feel like you can or want to do more, please contact us, there is always going to be an opportunity to volunteer at an event or to donate to a cause. If we work together and treat everyone and everything in our country and on our planet with consideration and respect, mother nature will, as she has shown recently, speed up the recovery of our atmosphere, allowing our future generations to live a healthy life on Earth.