World set for ‘anthropulse’ as Covid-19 travel restrictions ease

Global lockdowns led to a so-called ‘anthropause’, but a potentially devastating surge in human activity could follow as more regions open up.  

When vast swathes of the planet closing for business early-2020, the positive impact on ecosystems and the environment was clearly visible – from bottlenose dolphins playing in the Bosphorus, Istanbul, to wild boar roaming Israeli streets. 

airplane flying over the clouds during sunset

In numbers, carbon dioxide levels alone dropped by 6.4% in the first year of the pandemic, with aviation emissions plummeting by 48% compared with 2019. As the crisis has eased, many pollutants and other indicators of environmental damage have bounced back, with roads in many UK cities, for example, long-since returning to pre-pandemic congestion. 

Now a leading ecologist at the University of St Andrews has issued a call for coordinated action to analyse and assess the so-called ‘anthropause’, and expected ‘anthropulse’, whereby people embrace the newly regained opportunities to see the world, causing travel activity to surge beyond pre-pandemic levels. 

Writing for the journal Nature Reviews Earth and Environment, Professor Christian Rutz, from the university’s School of Biology, highlights how the pandemic offered a respite from humanity’s ongoing impact on the planet, and  suggests studying how this, and the travel boom to follow, has effected wild animals and their habitat is crucial to planning a sustainable future. 

Among other things, Rutz cites the Covid-19 Bio-Logging Initiative as one example of this research in practice, which he helped launch in May 2020. The work involved attaching tiny electronic devices to animals – including birds and mammals – to understand their movements before, during, and after lockdowns. 

‘There are very important lessons we can learn for conservation biology and environmental planning. We are doing this work to search for innovative ways of mitigating adverse environmental impacts,’ said Dr Marlee Tucker, a movement ecologist at Radboud University in the Netherlands. 

Last year, WWF released data showing the average person had seen a 17% reduction in their personal carbon footprint because of the pandemic, and resulting restrictions. 

Image credit: Belinda Fewings




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