Sure, COVID may have killed 2.8 million people worldwide, but NBC wanted viewers on Thursday to focus on the upside: The environment has been given a “gift.” “Planet Earth got a rare break.” Talk about tone deaf. What a ghoulish way to discuss a pandemic that has destroyed families and ended the lives of so many we care about.
Rather than focus on the true horror, longtime NBC correspondent Kerry Sanders hyped, “When the nation and world shut down, Planet Earth got a rare break and for the first time we saw more deer and Turkeys near Boston, dolphins swimming in a quieter New York harbor, and waterways in Venice so clear you could see jellyfish.”
Talking to a University of Miami professor, Sanders used the word “gift” to refer to the global killer that wrecked economies and put millions out of work: “Nobody would have wanted to see this pandemic, but from a science standpoint, the data you have collected is a gift.”
Professor Ben Kirtman offered this ugly reply: “It's a gift to the science, but it's also a gift to us. To society. To the human race. It demonstrates we can do this.”
It shows “we can do this”? So all we need is a global pandemic to make it happen?
Sanders closed with a lecture to viewers:
What have we learned this past year? Even though Covid remains a disaster, many of us can work from home. We don't need to drive everywhere, and if we hold on to that scientists say we can positively impact global climate change. This happened in just a year.
Sanders was by no means original with his COVID upside.
On March 19 2020, CBS This Morning’s Vladimir Duthiers touted a decrease in pollution in Italy: “This is a map, a satellite map showing you the level of pollution that has gone away the past three months because of the reduction of emissions across northern Italy.” At that time, Italy now had around 25,000 dead now. So perhaps that wasn’t quite the cheery story Duthiers thought it was.
On March 13, 2020, PBS’s Christiane Amanpour found the “environmental silver lining” to this all. On April 22, 2020, Hoda Kotb promoted, “Al [Roker] will explore the benefits of those shelter-in-place orders across the country and around the world. We have positive news on this Earth day 2020.” A day later, CBS’s John Blackstone chided, “Nature seems to be saying, ‘We can get along fine without you.’"
A transcript of the segment is below. Click “expand” to read more.
7:38 AM ET
SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: We're back, 7:38 with Today goes green.” Our special series in honor of Earth Month. All month long we'll be focused on issues tied to the environment, the climate and the changes you can make to help.
CRAIG MELVIN: And who better to kick it off than NBC's Kerry Sanders? He’s exploring the impact of the pandemic on the world around us and Kerry is at a bird sanctuary down in Florida. Hey, buddy, good morning.
KERRY SANDERS: Well, good morning. Of course we know that the pandemic has brought us so much heartache, but at the same time, there have been some powerful positive impacts, especially on animals, like the birds here at Wakodahatchee. And scientists got breaks, but also some beat downs. When the nation and world shut down, planet Earth got a rare break and for the first time we saw more deer and Turkeys near Boston, dolphins swimming in a quieter New York harbor, and waterways in Venice so clear you could see jellyfish. And the rarest of rare, Florida panthers boldly out in the open. But not all was reason to celebrate. Starving wild monkeys invading cities in Thailand, absent of tourists who would normally feed them.
HILARY SWAIN (Ph.D., Executive Director of Archbold Biological Station): Nature responded to less traffic, less disturbance, especially in wildlife urban interfaces. Absolutely, nature responded.
SANDERS: We responded as well, humans.
SWAIN: Oh, completely. I like to think nature got a break.
SANDERS: But as nature got a break, a new plastic overload emerged, thanks to all our masks, an estimated 129 billion disposable ones dumped every month. But those paper ones have plastic, and because of the virus, there's no recycling. As for air pollution at the height of last year's shut down, the often polluted Beijing finally had clear skies, but just two weeks ago, the old days were back. And also in the atmosphere, a stunning seven percent drop in carbon dioxide after U.S. Passenger volume dropped 96 percent. Nobody would have wanted to see this pandemic, but from a science standpoint, the data you have collected is a gift.
BEN KIRTMAN Ph.D. (University of Miami Rosenstiel School Atmospheric Sciences Professor): That's right. Absolutely right. Now, it's a gift to the science, but it's also a gift to us. To society. To the human race. It demonstrates we can do this.
SANDERS: There remains some yet to be understood phenomena. Biologists recorded logger head turtles, laying 11 percent more eggs on the beach, and the song of the white crown sparrow, pre-pandemic, hard to hear. But now. [Birds chirping.]
ELIZABETH DERRYBERRY, Ph.D. (University of Tennessee Department of Ecology and Environmental Biology Professor): It’s the first data showing that animals responded to changes in human behavior.
SANDERS: What have we learned this past year? Even though Covid remains a disaster, many of us can work from home. We don't need to drive everywhere, and if we hold on to that scientists say we can positively impact global climate change. This happened in just a year.
KIRTMAN: That's right, so it's phenomenal. We can do this, we can solve this problem. That's what it tells me.
GUTHRIE: And Kerry, as mentioned, at the bird sanctuary in Florida, have they seen major changes after the pandemic?
SANDERS: Actually, the folks from the Audubon Society were seeing more nesting, waiting birds than ever, like the wood storks that you see over my shoulder here, and that they may be as much to do with the rain, but then as Dylan knows, the rain is complex because it's impacted by el Nino and la Nina, and that of course, is impacted by the way we have lived our last year. So, yes, it all connects, according to scientists.