International

Should Earth Be Happy During Coronavirus Times?

The year 2020 has thought to be remarkable in terms of environment because the Paris Agreement of 2015, a post-Kyoto protocol mechanism, has planned to be enforced to curb the global average temperature to below 2oC by 2100 in respect to pre-industrial level, if not 1.5oC (UNFCC). There was a huge tussle between the different stakeholders for the same e.g. developed and developing, when and how to go forward for the same objective. None have thought that before the final implementation of said agreement, the arrival of coronavirus (COVID-19 or SARS-CoV-2 as named by WHO) has left all the roads are emptied, factories are closed, air pollution at lowest (Delhi, being one of most polluted cities of the world by WHO) and most beautifully many wild animals are seen freely roaming around. Waterways choked by industrial pollution, such as Delhi’s Yamuna River — full of gray foam just months ago — are flowing unimpeded. All this has been a reflection of only one thing that is non-interference of human activities to our Earth as the biosphere. This signal out a message worldwide that human being has been the biggest intruder to earth integrity. Though this lockdown has short-term (assumed that economic activities will start soon) impact, it is giving a long-term message to all the human to retrospect our action as well as inaction both equally, not only individual level but also at the societal level, sub-national level, national level and global level [1].

What has COVID-19 changed for the Mother Earth? And how long this change will continue? United Nations (UN) has reported a 5.7 percent fall in levels of carbon dioxide [2], reduction in nitrogen dioxide emission, water at various sources getting cleaner [5], plastic pollution in ocean and river bodies are on decline etc. [6] due to the pandemic. This is good news for climate change issues, where the most recent fear is increasing global warming, increasing the intensity of disasters, damages human health risk, the risk for the livelihood of poor and vulnerable of the society [3]. However, “the target laid out in the Paris Agreement would require similar reductions every year this decade, not just for one year” [4]. Mitigation of climate change is necessary for all of us in the long-term, but the dilemma of development versus climate change or paradox of development versus climate change has become a hurdle for the global community to reach a consensus on solid measures for the climate change mitigation. Hopefully, this pandemic might provide a buffer period for the Earth to regenerate itself as it has the auto-healing capability. But this opportunity of lockdown has a limited window. Thus, this pandemic also indicates that we must use this opportunity to rethink our actions, which is harmful to the environment as a whole. This also provides humans to devise a new strategy to cut down harmful actions (consumerism culture) and promote eco-friendly measures so that only unavoidable harm could be done to the environment in the persuasion of developmental activities. As it is known, development cannot be avoided or stopped. Development is needed to uplift the poor and vulnerable out of the state, where they are and it is equally necessary for the progress of human civilization.

It has been seen that those who were infected due to pollution (respiratory disease) or having already health issues of lifestyle (like diabetes etc.) are more vulnerable to deaths due to COVID-19. Even the debate that a warm climate is likely to have less impact of coronavirus is on and no conclusive research has come up [3]. Though, COVID-19 has its origin in natural animal (most probably- bat-associated viruses emerged due to the loss of bat habitat from deforestation and agricultural expansion) [7], but none natural ways till seen to be a cure of it. Climate change earlier has seen to be contributory to the spread of infectious disease, what will be its role in COVID-19 spread remain a matter of further research. But curbing both air pollution and climate change will limit the risk of infections or risk of co-morbidity deaths in the case of COVID-19 situation. Infection spread is now gaining more pace as we can travel around the globe less than a day. At the same time, uniformity in food, less open spaces, the rapid loss of wild habitats as well as species, monoculture in fields etc. also contributing to the reduction in resilience not only in the ecosystem but also in human body (becoming more vulnerable to disease) [3].

So, the current situation of the environment due to the pandemic seems to bring feel-good aspects. However, pre-COVID-19 situation and post-COVID-19 situation differences is a reflection of how human activities were dangerously harming both human and Earth [8]. Therefore, the devising agenda for post-pandemic human activities with a target of low harmful impact on the environment is crucial. Globally, all national governments must come forward for not only fulfilling the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) in letter and spirit but also must be ready to go beyond that. Technological advancement for not only mitigating climate change but also for adopting eco-friendly technology is necessary. The role of developed countries in technology development for prediction, mitigation and adaptation of climate change and transfer of the same technology to developing countries is very crucial. To avoid health and other crisis like Covid-19 either due to climate change or other factors, the prediction mechanism must be developed, where the role of international organizations like UNEP, WHO etc. would be pivotal. Further, India or other nations individually come up with more pro-active policies and create an environment for pro-environment friendly governance at all levels of organizations. There should not be a rush to give environmental clearance for developmental projects, it is equally necessary to develop a tool so that there should be harmony between developmental activities and environment e.g. Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), Socially Impact Assessment (SIA) etc. Moreover, the role of civil society is equally deciding. They should constructively play a role in awareness to the public at large and policy inputs to the government. Empowering the public is very determining the political aspects of the nation. In a democratic system, the public can set the narrative for the political parties to priorities the issue of climate change and the environment in their campaign while fighting elections and in decision making while ruling at national, state and local levels. In the time of electronic media and social media, the dissemination of information about various issues cannot be avoided. This put forward the right opportunities to awaken from individual to political leaders to international organizations.

To my mind, individual behaviour would be the biggest contributor to the intact integrity of the Earth. A farmer can practice sustainable agriculture with the incorporation of traditional farming, a student can be taught green practices like saving water, 3R-reuse, reduce, recycle, planting tree etc., corporate heads can go for green projects and contribute more sustainable products (e.g. Electric Vehicles), investors can invest in comparatively sustainable projects, each individual can buy an eco-friendly product, avoid plastic use, discourage all consumerist tendencies in ourselves etc. This list is long for every stakeholder. Though it is might not be so easy as it is said, this requires determination, a conscious sustainable effort and inculcate slowly these values not only in us but also try to advocate these values to the people around us. We must realize one thing as an individual and as a community that we have only one known Earth in the universe till now where humans and other living species can survive. Each species including humans are interdependent. Any threat to one species would have a definite impact on others and human is no exception to it.

Thus neither earth should be happy in a time of corona, as all human activities will soon resume to its earlier scale, nor human should be happy in time of corona as resuming human activities may get back to the same earlier existing problem. Humans must remember that it is their deed which is resulting in various types of harm to the Earth. And, humans must not forget that it will be impacting us or our next coming generations only. It is time to learn from the Earth itself. As Earth itself has the self-maintaining capacity and using the same for healing in a time of COVID-19, Why cannot the global leaders and individual use the same time to bring a consensus to adopt more affirm steps to fight back the issues related to the environment. Thus, it is all up to us that we can make Earth, current generation and future generations make happy through practicing sustainable means of livelihood and promote sustainable development in letter and spirit. This is the 50th year of Earth Day celebration globally; let’s pledge to maintain Earth as a beautiful planet, a greener planet, a blue sky and inclusive habitat to all our fellow species on planet Earth. This would be the best way to keep the Earth happy. The Gandhian principle on his 150th Birth anniversary becomes relevant as foundational value to this pledge to drive our actions and inactions, that is-‘The Earth provides enough to satisfy every person’s need, but not every person’s greed.’

-Ratan Priya (One of the prize winners of Covid-19 Article Writing Competition in the 25-34 years age group)

References:
[1] Joanna Slater, April 11, 2020 at 2:30 p.m. GMT+5:30, Washington Post, URL- https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/india-coronavirus-delhi-clean-air-pollution/2020/04/10/ac23dd1e-783e-11ea-a311-adb1344719a9_story.html
[2] United Nation Website, URL- https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/04/1062332
[3] School of Public Health, Harvard, URL- https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/c-change/subtopics/coronavirus-and-climate-change/
[4] Doyle Rice , USA Today, April, 30, 2020. URL-https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2020/04/30/global-carbon-dioxide-emissions-decline-coronavirus-lockdowns/3055323001/
[5] Christopher McFadden, March 26, 2020. URL-https://interestingengineering.com/7-ways-the-coronavirus-is-affecting-the-environment
[6] The Hindu, April,21, 2020. URL-https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/energy-and-environment/coronavirus-as-earth-day-turns-50-environmental-action-goes-digital/article31392415.ece
[7] UNEP (2020). URL-https://www.unenvironment.org/news-and-stories/story/six-nature-facts-related-coronaviruses
[8] Oliver Milman, The Gardian, Wed 22 Apr 2020 08.30 BST, URL-https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/apr/22/environment-pandemic-side-effects-earth-day-coronavirus

Picture Credits: e-volution.media



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