Making the World Better

Something amazing happened when we were all hunkered down earlier this year: The earth quieted down too. I’m not just talking about the sharp decrease in trucks and tankers and trains and white noise and run-of-the-mill congestion. The planet actually stopped coughing and shivering from all of our human hacking. 


Don’t believe me? Then read this article recently published in Science. See, humans are among the main producers of high-frequency “seismic noise.” Not only do we generate our own seismic activity both on and below the surface, but that activity tends to drown out simultaneous natural phenomena. When we all quieted down in quarantine, so did the seismographs around the world that record such movement. 


I’ve been thinking a lot about how the pandemic is reshaping our relationship with our environment. I'm convinced we’re experiencing a Lorax-level reckoning and it both comforts and concerns me.

On good days, I marvel that I can still get anywhere in the city without heavy traffic. I hadn’t realized how hardwired we were to embed time for freeway stops in any local trip we took. This week we went for a walk along the Embarcadero. Since all of our vacation plans were scrapped back in May, and San Diego is still very much on a state watchlist requiring shutdowns, we’re trying to get out of our neighbor once a week to visit outdoor venues that allow social distancing. The Embarcadero is perfect in that way. Wide paths, lots to take in and, by 11 a.m. most morning, plenty of sunshine without too much warmth.  You’ll always find runners here too because it’s one of the few spots in San Diego that is flat. 


On bad days, I reflect on the lack of work right now and the toll it’s taking on so many people. No matter where we go the crowds are thin, and vendors look depressed. The pandemic, and those contagions sure to follow, are killing people and starving others. It’s tearing apart families, turning away young people with bright futures and allowing domestic and child abuse to run rampant. It’s showing how fragile we are as a democratic nation and how resilient we remain as a society (a tip of the hat to those moms and dads). 


Covid-19 allowed nature to heal temporarily from centuries of abuse and reclaim some ground lost to industrialism and disrespectful development. I now spend a lot of time walking both dirt and concreate paths near my home. I hear the first songbirds of the day, the bugs rising in chorus as an intruder approaches, the rattlesnakes warning whomever is nearby. The city is replacing old gas lines in our neighborhood and as a result, there are dead rats everywhere. I mean, every walk or run I’ve taken in recent weeks has led me to step over or around at least one deceased rodent that other wildlife won’t go near. It’s impossible to rip up road and pipelines without generating seismic noise. 


Before Covid-19, we stayed busy and now ask: But why? We helped people who should have been helping themselves if self-improvement was the point. We wasted hours at appointments and meetings and conferences when we always had the means to meet virtually. We spent tons of money on makeup and hairstyles and clothes that no one now sees. We took for granted where our food comes from and regret giving away old gym equipment or bikes. It’s still difficult to find Lysol wipes and Yum Yum sauce no matter where you shop around here.


But by narrowing down our options, Covid-19 is forcing many of us to live more simply and authentically. Maybe kindly too. It’s making us re-evaluate how many Karens we can handle among our friends and family. It’s making us stop taking things like steady income and racial inequality for granted. It’s bringing down the dress code and cancelling vanity surgeries. 

Let’s stop making so much noise. Let's do more to protect our immediate surroundings, from a coronavirus and from our worst inclinations. Let’s all just quiet down again so we can make the world better.  




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