Let me set the scene for you. You have just returned home from work, not long after you sit down to a nice dinner with your family. After recounting their tales of the day you all decide to retire for the night. Upon waking the next morning you are disgruntled to discover an annoying metallic taste in your mouth that doesn’t seem to want to go away. Your spouse is rattled with coughing fits and visits to the bathroom to expel the contents of last night's dinner, the vomiting an unwelcome sound through the walls.

Your children complain of headaches and the same metallic taste coating their tongues. A whole day goes by with your family feeling ill, you blame it on bad food from the night before. The next day the members of your household are still feeling off, this is when you learn that the town is being evacuated. You must take only what is necessary and enough that will last you three days. You leave behind enough food for the cat and you load up on the bus. Little do you know you will never be returning to your home, or your cat, again.

This is most likely a poor glimpse into what someone might have experienced in Pripyat during the year of 1986 — the year that the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant suffered an accident causing large amounts of radiation to be released, so much so that a Swedish plant over 620 miles away was able to detect this radiation.

The Swedish government contacted the Soviets who then denied being the source. It took days for them to fully accept the seriousness of the situation. Thousands were evacuated, many hospitalized, many more died either soon after or years later from cancer that developed from the exposure. Women and children passed, mothers having to abort their babies, even more being born with defects.

It was a disaster.

However, 32 years later, I believe something beautiful is happening. With the absence of human activity, the wildlife populations are flourishing. The health of these animals remains unclear, but the fact that they are rising in numbers is amazing. It has been said that human interference harms these animals and plants more than the radiation.

Wolves, black storks, endangered bison, lynx, wild boars, and even a rare breed of horse is doing so well that herds are expanding beyond the exclusion zone. Again I must say that the health of the animals is still questionable. What I am pointing out is that the radiation does not shoot these animals or take away their habitat. These animals are not being hunted for sport or forced to leave the only home they have known. They are managing and they are doing well.

The proof that an endangered species or even a rare one was able to come into the exclusion zone and grow in numbers is astounding. Despite the radiation, the animals are doing so much better than when the humans were there. Observing that the plants and animals flourish in the presence of radiation better than they would in the presence of humans says a whole lot about who we are and what we do. I believe we can learn from this.

The impact we have on our planet is tremendous. So far we have been making a negative impact, but what if we could change that? As a human being, I can say I am ashamed of the part I played in hurting our planet and I will find ways to lessen my impact. I can only hope others do the same.