Anthropause

“As factories grew quiet and traffic dropped, ozone levels fell by 7 percent across the Northern Hemisphere. As air pollution across India dropped by a third, mountain snowpacks in the Indus Basin grew brighter. With less haze in the atmosphere, the sky let more sunlight through. The planet’s temperature temporarily jumped between a fifth and half of a degree.”

                                                ~ Carl Zimmer

Last fall, when the weather was turning and somewhat iffy, I would look forward to the week ahead which promised to be typically autumn for Colorado, highs in the ‘60’s during the day. That meant that I would need not be in a rush to do all those outdoors chores that I’d been putting off.

However, now that it’s winter, and COVID has had us pretty much housebound for over a year, I’m painfully conscious that I have just continued to put things off. In the beginning, I looked forward to being “locked down”: Time to read, catch up on the organizing I wanted to do, and generally accomplish lots of household chores that I never seem to get to. But, of course, now that we’ve stayed housebound since last February — never going out to eat, errands only by necessity (groceries, liquor and the doctor), social distancing — I can safely say we’re both a bit bored and grumpy, but continuing to play it safe since we’re in ‘that’ age and health cohort. Sure, I did work on several big projects, but I failed to complete any. It just feels futile. Surely, the pandemic will keep us here for another year.

We had to cancel our planned Oregon coast trip in September. I mean, if it’s not safe to go eat at the diner downtown, how safe is a road trip across half the U.S.? And even when we got there, we couldn’t have been with our friends. We tried to figure out how the two families could co-quarantine for two weeks separately, but we both have lives. We’ve toyed with just going somewhere; driving to a resort in the mountains, social distancing, cooking our own food, but that doesn’t seem particularly practical and not that different from staying at home. 

Some of my friends that I zoom with regularly have been a few places; vetting the sanitization of the motels ahead of time and eating distanced in the cafes. Can we use the pool or hot tub? Are the public bathrooms safe? Frankly, it sounds like a lot of work and potential risk for little reward.

It’s dark these days — sunset is around 6pm and sunrise nearly 6:30am.  Halloween, Christmas and New Year’s were anticlimactic due to the virus limitations. We put out candy for the kids, and still have piles left over to tempt us, but most of the Christmas goodies are long gone. I’m having trouble sitting still to read anything like a book for very long and really don’t want to sit and watch TV all day. Video games can be compelling for a while, but I try to commit to them thoughtfully.

 We’ve added several streaming TV channels to the ones we already had, but still find much TV to be less interesting. We’re trying new recipes for exotic meals, and many have been great, some primarily ‘interesting’. 

Maybe it’s just me. Trump and COVID have worn me down. I’ve tried to find ways to boost my spirits. Being with my family and our pets helps a lot, but the threats are still lurking in the background. The amount of damage Trump has done to our government and lives is astounding, and the efforts necessary now to undo all that damage is daunting.

One glimmer of light is that our human quarantining has opened up our parts of the world to nature’s return. Termed “anthropause” in a technical paper by Christian Rutz and fourteen others in Nature, it reflects the “considerable global slowing of modern human activities, notably travel … Scientific knowledge gained during this devastating crisis will allow us to develop innovative strategies for sharing space on this increasingly crowded planet, with benefits for both wildlife and humans.

“Coordinated global wildlife research during the anthropause will make contributions that go well beyond informing conservation science — it will challenge humanity to reconsider our future on Earth. There will be unforeseen opportunities to reinvent the way we live our lives, and to forge a mutually beneficial coexistence with other species. It would be wonderful if careful research during this period of crisis helped us to find innovative ways of reining in our increasingly expansive lifestyles, to rediscover how important a healthy environment is for our own well-being, and to replace a sense of owning with a sense of belonging. We hope that people will choose to hear the wake-up call.”

In spite of the death and chaos caused by COVID, it’s not a bad thing to have to take a break and ponder life’s great mysteries and our place in them. It makes you think …

Additional information:

Christian Rutz, and fourteen others, COVID-19 Lockdown Allows Researchers to Quantify The Effects Of Human Activity on Wildlife, 22 June 2020, Nature.com

Carl Zimmer, The Secret Life of a Coronavirus, Feb. 26, 2021, New York Times

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