Nature Advances Fast When Humans Retreat

The last two months of quarantine have been beautiful here in the Boston area:

This is the Boston skyline from Robbins Farm Park in my town of Arlington.   I have never seen it be this clear; there’s usually a white haze obscuring the view.   That would turn gray as you looked through miles and miles of smog to the horizon, but not any more.

The reason is obvious – driving and flying are way down:

Data from EIA – click for spreadsheetGasoline usage usually rises a bit as the weather warms, but it collapsed in March.  It bottomed out at half of normal weekly supplies, and is currently down by a third.  Jet fuel is down 80%, unsurprisingly, but heating oil is just doing its normal seasonal drop.

It has been weirdly windy these last few weeks, and we actually got a snow flurry on this May morning.   Is all this affecting the famous Keeling Curve of atmospheric CO2?

Click for site

Not that I can see.  It’s still rising by 3 ppm per year.  Maybe we’ll see it drop later this year as the reductions in China and the US get all the way to Hawaii, but maybe not.   Those big swings from September to May are normal, and are caused by the shutdown of  plant growth over the northern hemisphere’s winter.

Getting back to the local level, the lack of traffic has made the neighborhood coyotes more active.  They’re finally cutting into the rabbit population.   This has been a boon for my dog!  He’s too old and slow to catch them, but hates it when they taunt him by hopping about on people’s lawns.  The drop in traffic noise has also made the spring bird calls a lot easier to hear, to the point where they wake us up in the morning.

The main effect on animal populations, though, is that you now see far more people on the streets.  They used to be in their cars and schools and workplaces, but now they’re out enjoying the sun.  Most people are wearing masks (Massachusetts now has a public mask order), and most are home-made and stylish.  They stand and chat, but at a social distance.   Our block does a “6 at 6”, where everyone comes out at 6 PM to stand 6 feet apart, usually with drinks in hand.  I’ve learned more about my neighbors in the last month than in the last ten years!

For a lot of people this quarantine has been a tremendous hardship, and for some it has been fatal.  Of course we want this plague to be over, and of course we need to get back to our regular lives.   But I hope that when we do, we don’t lose the clean air, and the bird song, and the friendly neighbors.

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