COVID-19: A Long Pending Break for Nature?

Vijaylakshmi Suman

It has been 10 days since Delhi went under lockdown. The enormity of COVID-19 became evident when the World Health Organization declared it as a pandemic and a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC). The outbreak will certainly be remembered as one of the most devastating events in the history of mankind that shook the globe. Amidst the panic and chaos that COVID-19 has created, almost all news channels, videos, blogs, journals and many more such social platforms are constantly buzzing with discussions centred around the killer disease. Among the few ways of dealing with the highly contagious and lethal disease, ‘lockdown’ is the biggest yet most effective precautionary measure adopted by the governments of many countries worldwide. With a sudden pause to the hustle and bustle of modern life and all the activities associated with it, several impacts are being felt that are both positive and negative.

One of the major impacts that are emerging is a change in the status of the natural environment that we are a part of. One of the crucial impacts that is being observed is related to carbon emission and the changing air quality. At a global level, in the past month, a remarkable drop in carbon emissions was reported. For instance, images released by NASA and the European Space Agency have shown how there has been a tremendous reduction in nitrogen dioxide emissions in major Chinese cities between January and February.1 Besides this, even at the local scale, several metropolitan cities have reported declining pollution levels. For instance, the overall Air Quality Index (AQI) of Delhi stood at 39 on Sunday, 29 March 2020,2  Which was in stark contrast to pollution levels before the lockdown when Delhi was consistently recording an AQI of about 303-200.

The threat of the pandemic causing irreversible damage looms large, and so far, humans have been having a tough time dealing with the outbreak and keeping the situation under control. However, a lot of researchers are stating that it is actually the destruction of biodiversity at the hands of humans which has created conditions for a new virus such as COVID-19 to emerge and escalate to a pandemic. In fact, according to the scientists, as humans are invading almost all core spaces of the planet, they are creating habitats that are conducive to the transmission of viruses.3 Looking at the way in which the severity of the crisis is unfolding, it may not be wrong to say that nature is perhaps reciprocating to the barbarity of human actions, particularly the destruction of nature in the name of ‘development’. The ongoing crisis is also forcing us to reconsider our contemporary consumerist lifestyles which have put tremendous pressure on biodiversity, and in many cases, permanently damaged it. While it seemed like initiatives were being taken towards developing ecological or green sustainable capitalist economies, in the midst of an unprecedented health crisis, these initiatives look like a sham. The words of Mahatma Gandhi “The world has enough for everyone’s need, but not enough for everyone’s greed” is probably proving to be true.

The effects of the lockdown seem to be impacting nature in a positive way, and this has not only been reported in news and journals but is also being increasingly felt by a lot of citizens around the world. The clear blue skies, the sound of more chirping birds, and the sight of animals roaming the streets are all clear indicators that nature is recovering. The sudden stillness, that is devoid of any human activity, is perhaps healing nature, while also giving us an opportunity to analyze our actions and lifestyle. Our modern lifestyles are so toxic and damaging to nature, and the crisis that we are facing is more than sufficient evidence to prove it.

Though the gravity of this present situation and the loss which the world is having to deal with cannot be denied at any point, there is some respite, maybe for some of us, but more certainly, for all of nature. Though a lot of us seem to celebrate the recovery of nature, environmentalists have indicated that plans to recover from the impacts of such a major crisis have to be environmentally sustainable. As countries rebuild their economies and recover from huge losses suffered by industries, taking hasty decisions would definitely once again put the world in a high carbon emission zone.4 The COVID-19 pandemic should serve as a warning to us to not go back to our old ways of living which were certainly not green or environmentally friendly.

Featured Image by M. Maggs from Pixabay

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