The anthropause was a global reduction in modern human activity, especially travel, that occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly in March and April 2020. It was coined by a team of researchers in June 2020 in an article discussing the positive impact of the COVID-19 lockdown on wildlife and environment. The scientific journal that published the commentary, Nature Ecology and Evolution, selected the topic for the cover of its September issue, with the headline “Welcome to the anthropause”. Oxford Languages highlighted the word "anthropause" in its 2020 Words of an Unprecedented Year report.
The word is a blended lexical item with phonological overlap, combining the prefix anthropo-, from anthropos (Ancient Greek: ἄνθρωπος) meaning “human”, and the English word “pause”; its literal translation is “human pause”. The researchers[who?] explained in their article that they noticed that people had started referring to the lockdown period as the Great Pause, but felt that a more precise term would be helpful. The word anthropause intentionally links to the proposed geological epoch Anthropocene. It is not capitalised as it is conceivable that the anthropause caused by the COVID-19 pandemic will not remain the only such event.
Anthropause is a neologism which has been used by social-media users, scientists, journalists, artists, and photographers, amongst others. William Gibson, the speculative fiction writer who coined the term “cyberspace” in 1982, posted a tweet on 23 June 2020 simply entitled “The Anthropause”, linking to the article that introduced the term.
Several global research projects are underway to investigate the effects of the COVID-19 anthropause. For example, a July 2020 study documented a global reduction of high-frequency seismic noise. A study published in 2022 showed correlations between air pollution and some human activities in several metropolitan regions of the United States. Another study, the COVID-19 Bio-Logging Initiative, uses animal tracking data collected before, during, and after lockdown, to assess how changes in human activity levels affected the movements and behaviour of a wide range of marine, terrestrial, and avian species. In 2021, an article published in The Geographical Journal historically situated the COVID-19 anthropause amongst other anthropause events that led to significant reductions in human activity, such as the Chernobyl nuclear disaster and the formation of the Korean Demilitarized Zone. The authors drew attention to how the anthropause was experienced unevenly by different groups of people and animals, and shed light on a range of pre-existing inequalities as many humans were not afforded the opportunity to pause during this time.
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