There are COVID-19, Whales and a Planet

Steve Rogers: You know, I saw a pod of whales when I was coming up the bridge.

Natasha Romanoff: In the Hudson?

Steve Rogers: There’s fewer ships, cleaner water.

Natasha Romanoff: You know, if you’re about to tell me to look on the bright side, um, I’m about to hit you in the head with a peanut butter sandwich.

Whales and pollution:

Who has watched Avengers: Endgame knows that Captain America is speaking to Black Widow after 5 years have passed since a tragic event. Seeing the images of the Venetian canals in the early days of the Italian lockdown, I could only remind that scene, with whales swimming free in a Hudson no longer crowded with boats of all kinds and plagued by discharges. In fact, whales (which, according to some studies, financed by the International Monetary Fund, absorb more greenhouse gases than four Amazonian forests) in the Hudson arrive quite often after the decrees against water pollution. In 2011 there were only five sightings, in 2019 there were 272. The signal of a world that is doing something for itself.

Beauty is everywhere:

Whales aren’t enough and I’m not Black Widow. I therefore thought of Natasha Romanoff’s response in the movie, which in a burst of pessimistic realism, brings the poor patriot back to the totality of the facts. I tend to see beauty everywhere. I’m not optimist, but I like to look for the various positive sides scattered around the world, in history, in myself. For this reason, a few years ago, when I was still using my old iPod, I added Saleel al-Sawarim to my thousand and more titles, a nasheed composed by Abu Yasir and spread in 2014. It is an a cappella singing, it seems almost angelic, but the title means “Clash of Swords” and is part of the Daesh propaganda machine.

Saleel al-Sawarim is for me a bit like the whales in the Hudson for Captain America, it is that beauty that should save the world, but it is also a fruit of evilness. So is it possible to find beauty everywhere? As bright side, I mean.

According to Jedi oxymoron “only one sith lives for absolutes”, probably yes: we can find a positive side everywhere. This does not derive from reality, but from a human ability, that is to alter perception, which isn’t necessarily a defect, but in recent years it would seem to acquire a negative meaning, indeed, a negative reality, between fake news and increasingly crazy election promises. The perception of the facts is what makes someone say that not all Coronaviruses come to harm, but also that we will all die or that this is a very strong cold and that Italian people just want a long (the guy was wrong and “siesta “is not Italian). People are dying with COVID-19 and becasue of COVID-19, and a clear canal or blue sky is not enough to repay us for the dead and the symptomatic and chronically ill.

Bring me the horizon:

Actually, have you noticed how much the days in which it is possible to see the horizon have increased? Generally there are two or three throughout winter, until the end of the lockdown it happened almost every day, currently I don’t know, because I’m locked in my house between holidays, boredom and stress. There are various videos and various news to confirm how much air pollution has reduced. Our ears, terrified by that relative calm interrupted by the sad calls of the ambulances, suggested to us how much noise pollution had been reduced. The canals of Venice suggest to us how much the waters have also benefited from this slowing down of the world. Between decrees, fears and sick people, this pandemic has succeeded where no one had succeeded before. Satellites show us the decline in atmospheric pollutants almost everywhere between Asia and Europe. Not to mention the cows that invaded a deserted highway near Turin, in Northern Italy.

Reduction of greenhouse gases:

Thanks to data from ESA‘s Copernicus Sentinel-5P satellite, as well as some from NASA, we have been able to observe great changes, especially in some areas. In Eastern China and in Northern Italy the explanation is quite simple: we are essentially at a standstill. Airplanes fly less, between bans and fear of traveling, machines are used less, between quarantines and smart working, cruises are reduced or stopped, industries have closed their factories or reduced production. Some large, difficult-to-heat buildings, such as schools, have been closed for days, weeks or months, depending on the location. In China, industrial activity in the first half of 2020 fell by at least 13.5%, some sources even speak of 40% for the coal industry, a nightmare energy source for environmentalists and the love of Donald Trump. This resulted in a 25% year-on-year decline in emissions in February. According to the Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air, in February 2019 China emitted about 400 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, while in the same month of 2020 the CO2 released would have halved compared to the previous year. In Italy, traffic fell by 18% in the first week of March compared to the average, with a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions equal to 139,960 tons. Not to mention the reduction of NO2, due to the shutdown of heating in public places, the inconstant reduction of industrial production and city traffic. A great contribution to the reduction of atmospheric pollution, as Greta Thunberg teaches us, is given by the drastic reduction in air traffic, which becomes obvious even looking at the sky, especially starting from the first weekend of March.

Solutions or not:

Airplanes are an environmental problem, there is no doubt. A year ago, with a spannometric calculation, I estimated that I would have to plant 210 oaks to remedy my economy trip to Mauritius and subsequent return. Do not take this estimate as gold standard, but it serves to give an idea of how much the planes weigh on our lungs and the 42° C reached in June 2019 in the area of Italy where I live (and no, it’s not always summer here). Our house is on fire by Greta Thunberg, or rather, mainly by her mother, opera singer Malena Ernman, theorizes, indeed, that to hope to make it through global warming we should stop all planes within two years (now essentially less than one). Airplanes are responsible for 12% of the carbon dioxide emitted, on average, although they produce 2.3% if all greenhouse gases are considered. In short, blocking the planes permanently, in addition to being an impossible solution, would not be that decisive. The International Maritime Organization predicted a 72% increase, in 2020, in terms of carbon dioxide emissions by boats, already 5% of the total. These estimates are likely to be disregarded, but only because of pandemic. And so? Should we hope for an epidemic every year? Should we trust in an unfortunate event to drastically reduce pollution and hope to live a few more years or, even, manage not to become an acid and boiling planet like Venus? Since we are not Thanos, the answer is “no”. We can say that pollution can be reduced, but that drastic actions are needed, which will inevitably affect our lives, especially in most economically developed countries. Furthermore we should be worried because this pandemic is diverting attention from global warming and the economic crisis parallel to the spread of the virus, could lead to a further productive effort later on, such as to cancel the reductions in current pollutants and indeed aggravate the situation more than it would have been without a pandemic.

What we have learnt:

We risk to pay a bonus of a few years with human lives and we risk to have no bonuses. The ideal would be to learn, since learning and reworking the teachings makes us different from jellyfish. We have had proof that using the heaters a little less would not hurt. We have learnt that stopping cars actually works. We have learnt that smart working has the effect of reducing travel. We have learnt that meetings can also be held via videoconference, as well as university exams and even dissertation discussions. We have learnt that one person can shop for multiple families. We have learnt that reading a book instead of hunting is not bad. We have learnt that we can do it, that we can affect pollution, through politics and our behaviors. We have learnt that we can do it with some sacrifices in social and economic sustainability, but that with a well-reasoned and global program, it would be a reduced sacrifice, especially economically, indeed, maybe a change would even lead to development.

We have learnt we like life and we would like to continue living it, at any age and anywhere on this planet.

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