Hiking in Organ Pipe National Monument in December of 2020

Silver Lining: Good Things That Came Out Of 2020

As 2020 ended and I got to be a year older (on the last day of the year), I found myself reflecting upon the past year, a year of general uncertainties, considered one of the worst in recent history.

The world has seen more changes in one year than in most others, most of them terrible. Yet we had some good news, especially when it came to sustainability and wildlife.

Global Carbon Emission Fell in 2020

As millions of people worldwide went into lockdown in March of 2020, rush hours disappeared, and travel stopped. Working from home became the norm for nonessential businesses, and in-person entertainment was replaced by live streams.

All this, and similar measures had a positive effect on pollution due to carbon emission, which fell enough to be noticed. According to the Global Carbon Project, carbon emission decreased 17% globally by April (compared to 2019).

Though we slowly returned to travel by summertime, most of us stayed close to home, with short road trips, thought twice before turning on our cars, and stayed away from air travel as much as possible. Which means that carbon emissions still stayed relatively lower overall for the year.

Drops in carbon emissions happened in the past, and eventually returned to even higher numbers. But this time we have the technology and awareness to keep the momentum going.

2020 Was Good For Wildlife

While confusion and uncertainty characterized the human world, wildlife was able to adapt, and even thrive in 2020. Though poaching and illegal hunting still remain worldwide issues, in the past year we had a few positives when it came to wildlife.

While nothing as dramatic as dolphins swimming in the canals of Venice happened (that proved to be an urban myth), people around the globe noticed wildlife in unexpected places, and places they have almost disappeared. In the early days of the pandemic we all noticed more birds in our surroundings, while car accidents involving animals decreased with less traffic.

Scientists observing whales noticed them becoming less stressed with the reduction of sea traffic, one of he best news I heard all year.

The pandemic brought awareness to the pangolins, used for traditional Chinese medicine for their scales. Now they have a chance for survival since the Chinese government gave them protected status and removed them from the list of approved ingredients for traditional medicine.

Gray wolf population also scored a win, since Colorado voted to reintroduce them to the state. This will give them a fighting chance to reclaim their territory, helping the ecosystem in the process.

Travel Changed in 2020

A sudden stop of travel all over the world was not all that terrible. While those of us who were used to traveling missed it, we had an opportunity to revaluate our priorities. The way people travel shifted.

Mass tourism to artificially constructed attractions went down, and instead the outdoors became popular. Instead of flying and eating out, people started hiking more.

Travel didn’t fully stop in 2020, it just shifted focus a bit in the right direction (in my opinion). For us, as much as for others.

Though Less than Usual, We Still Traveled in 2020

We didn’t travel in 2020 as much as usual, but we still took a few trips. Most of them were day trips, after a major trip earlier this year, in the beginning stages of the pandemic.

We were in Costa Rica in early March, when the World Health Organization declared the Coronavirus a pandemic. Though the second part of our trip was tainted by the virus and our flight back home was delayed, we made it back home safe and sound, without getting sick. And while there, we enjoyed the outdoors in a different environment than our own. We even visited an active volcano.

After months of sitting in the house, only venturing out to get groceries bi-weekly while masked up beyond recognition and constantly cleaning our hands, we eventually left our home in July for a few short road trips.

We tried to pick destinations away from people with maximum outdoors potential, so our first road trip took us to Lenox Crater to hike a little-used trail.

As restrictions started lifting, we couldn’t even walk outside in our back yard in the Phoenix heat. So, a month later we drove all the way to Colorado, and stayed in a hotel for three nights – cleaning and disinfecting everything we touched, masked up every time we entered a building or met someone on a hiking trail.

A few weeks later, we drove to Bryce Canyon National Park and stayed two nights there, in a self-contained cabin, while hiking the trails on the rim and inside the gorgeous canyon. I even caught the sunrise a few times, though I was freezing in the process.

And then I drove out to Texas with my daughter, but didn’t stop anywhere other than roadside rest stops for bathroom breaks. Since she was moving there and we took her car to leave it with her, I had to fly back. Alone, I felt I was able to concentrate on staying safe, and at the time the airline I flew still blocked their middle seats, so I didn’t mind the trip, and got home safe and virus-free.

Since then, I didn’t leave town – or even the house much – until the last day of the year, when we drove down to Organ Pipe National Monument for a hike in a different desert environment. No, it’s not that different, except for the organ pipe cactus that only grows there and we can’t see it in and around Phoenix in the wild (though I have one in my yard). We drove about two hours, we hiked, we drove back.

We found creative ways to travel without leaving the house

Since most people couldn’t travel, museums, National Parks, and other public places opened their doors virtually, even offering free tours on the web. Technology really helped.

Like so many others, we took advantage of this. We visited a few art museums around the world, and revisited old favorites, like the Met and the British Museum. All virtually, from our own living room.

We didn’t make it to Mexico in 2020, but it didn’t mean we couldn’t tour a few Maya archaeological sites; some offered virtual tours we took.

We also visited National Parks virtually, when we could’t drive to them.

I traveled through my books, though that was nothing new to me. But I made it a point to read books that took me back to my homeland when I missed it and realized I couldn’t go back for a visit.

Travel in the next year and beyond

I don’t expect travel – or anything – to magically get better just because we entered another year, an arbitrary count of dates we made up. But I see a shift in awareness, a beginning of a change for the better.

Though everyone talks about “getting back to normal” eventually when it comes to travel, I hope the idea of “normal” will be different. Less air travel means less pollution, more time in nature means healthier people who appreciate the outdoors and try to protect it. So I hope this trend continues.

When we eventually get back to traveling more, I plan on keeping it environmentally friendly and sustainable.

The terrible, horrible, good for nothing, let’s forget it existed 2020 showed us possibilities

The worst pandemic of our lifetime, raging wildfires, social and racial injustices (and shedding light on them), travel bans, divisions among people visible during the elections (obvious here, in the US, but on a smaller scale present everywhere elections were held), food and toilet paper shortages, lockdowns, and other hardships are the things we tend to talk about when it comes to 2020. And as terrible as all of these things were, they were an eye opener.

While the pandemic dominated the year, stopping us from traveling, and disrupting millions of lives, it also brought awareness to the problems we all face, problems that have been there for years. It forced us all to slow down and make some changes for the better.

We saw people come together during lockdown in the cities where the pandemic was worst, and sing together, celebrate the small victories together from their balconies.

We learned to appreciate the first responders, health care workers, and all front line workers more.

We learned habits for staying healthy more than ever before, we learned to be considerate towards others (at least most people did).

We got creative during lock down, people baked more, read more, or picked up new craft activities.

We realized that we could work and learn from home.

World-class museums offered free virtual tours and classes, and people took advantage of them.

While closed for in-person visits, National Parks also offered virtual visits. Other cultural institutions started offering virtual shows, and this trend continues in 2021.

Race and social status disappeared where huge groups of people came together to protest racial and social injustices. Environmental justice became a known phrase and gained supporters.

More people started using their bicycles around the world.

We started paying attention to the problems we all face, and started looking for solutions. Sustainability, the environment, green living is on more people’s and large companies’ mind. More people support small businesses that offer alternatives to single-use plastic, more people are aware of their impact on the environment.

While I know that all our problems won’t be solved in a matter of years or even decades, I feel we are going in the right direction.

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