EDITORIAL: The good side: Amid pandemic’s bad effects exist environmental benefits

The COVID-19 pandemic is hardly a godsend; it has wreaked havoc in the lives of millions — perhaps billions — of people worldwide. Hundreds of thousands of people have died and more will in the coming months. So it’s hard to find a good side to the crisis.

Of course, some spiritual people will find goodness in the fact that some people have taken time to ponder their own mortality. A more tangible benefit, however, could affect the Rio Grande Valley and other places with sensitive ecological habitat.

Just weeks after the United Nations held special high-level international summits on climate change, where people made apocalyptic predictions of total environmental collapse in just a few years, many of the factors they cited began to change. With more people staying at home there were greater demands on electricity production for homes, but the reduction of emissions from closed industrial plants and fewer cars on the road led to a clearing of the air. Airborne pollutants fell drastically, and quickly. Carbon emissions fell significantly, and in some areas the airborne levels of nitrogen dioxide dropped by about half.

Soon after national parks and other wildlife areas were closed and people began to stay home, park curators noticed changes in their respective facilities. Wildlife patterns began to change, and animals began to move into public areas they normally avoid.

Even outside such habitat, the reduction of automobiles and outdoor activities have wildlife new confidence and freedom. People reported deer and other reclusive animals were beginning to show up in backyards or just strolling down city streets.

Environmental experts predict that with reduced human pressure in their habitats and their expansion into previously ungrazed areas, wildlife likely will reproduce more readily, leading to larger populations a few months from now. Even with a corresponding increase in the number of predators, we should see more deer and other animals next year.

That should provide a benefit for the Valley and other popular ecotourism venues, as they might attract people who would come with expectations of seeing more wildlife. Obviously, hotels, restaurants and other businesses that serve tourists and hunters will benefit from the activity.

Of course, we have face the reality that those benefits will be temporary. Once the pandemic subsides and life returns to normal, the conditions that had affected the environment negatively will also return.

For at least a few months, however, Mother Nature has had a chance to catch a breather, and should offer short-term payoffs to those whose livelihoods are connected to the environment. How long those benefits might last are unknown and likely will be varied, but larger and healthier populations of wildlife could linger for a few generations at least.

We hope that in the interim, we will develop habits and adopt technologies that will lessen our own effects on the environment, and help us to provide a cleaner world in the long run.