Insert quote about bright shinning stars in the darkest of nights.

In times like these, it’s difficult to try and look on the bright side. News outlets everywhere are on a constant loop of reporting how many new cases of COVID-19 there are and countries are closing, all without providing communities with a small sliver of hope that they can hold onto. Well, the other day, NBC News reported something rather extraordinary that can hopefully give people something else to think about.

While it wasn’t any breakthrough in the current situation, it did show that there are still some who benefit from this quarantine, mainly, our very own planet Earth. Earlier this week, photos surfaced showing the usually clouded canals of Venice, Italy completely clear and filled with fish for what seems to be the first time in a long time.

Italy has experienced the biggest COVID-19 outbreak outside of China. With the whole country has been on lockdown since the 10th of March, images from a NASA satellite observed that the cloud of nitrogen dioxide above Italy (specifically the northern region) had dropped dramatically due to the almost-complete halting of tourism, car emissions, boat pollution, and overall air pollution. This isn’t unique to Italy, as China’s transformation was equally, if not more, impressive.

NASA Earth’s official Twitter account tweeted satellite images on March 4th showing how putting nearly the entire country into quarantine can improve a climate.

Photos show the comparison in the amount of nitrogen dioxide looming over China this year compared to last year at this time, and the results are amazing. I’m no environmental specialist, so those units of measurement aren’t the easiest to understand—but looking at the difference in the photos, it’s easy enough for anyone to grasp the difference this situation has made on the earth.

So, what can we take from this? Obviously, it’s that emissions from transportation, manufacturing, and humans in general are really harmful to the environment, especially in countries so heavily populated. But, there’s one major problem: we can’t all just stay inside all the time. Life needs to go back to normal, and for a lot of people that requires getting in their car or boarding a plane, contributing to the air pollution issue.

According to experts, these improvements are only temporary. So, as we watch air quality quickly improve over cities such as New York and San Fransisco, once the status quo is restored, things will fall back to the way they were unless some serious changes are implemented. Jacqueline Klopp—co-director of the Center for Sustainable Urban Development at Columbia University in New York City—says:

“As we move to restart these economies, we need to use this moment to think about what we value. Do we want to go back to the status quo, or do we want to tackle these big structural problems and restructure our economy and reduce emissions and pollution?”

Lots to think about, but hey, we’ve all got a little extra time on our hands these days.

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