In the following passages, I have tried to briefly describe the crux of human-nature conditions in real-time scenarios of status-quo ante and status-quo, and another one in an hypothetical future that we are yet to shape, hopefully from nothing less than from a standpoint of sweeping, scrupulous review.
In the field that we are in: research in urban ecology; one of the critical aspects that we study are natural elements and its relationship with humans within the city. If one is to read a handful of such material it is very easy to see that there is one common marker that is often the cause of ecological setbacks, which can be inferred from all such research on environmental issues in the city- Anthropocentrism. Human activities alone, just by the way we function has resulted in the extinction of thousands of species of plants and animals till date. Human bearing on earth has impacts so intense that it is able to alter the biosphere: deforestation, climate change, desertification, pollution, biological invasion, just to name a few. There are a number of ecosystem services that function and are categorised as services that ‘provide for us’, which can be broken down in to four types (1) Supporting services (2) Provisioning services (3) Regulating services (4) Cultural services. These functions and services can function optimally only when systems are intact. Biodiversity is key in this structure, but even highly resilient ecosystems have been documented to have undergone egregious impacts, courtesy the prodigal and apathetic Anthropocene. More proof of how humans are germane to significant degradation of the biosphere is in the fact that most of these alterations have happened in the past few centuries alone.
Locating the above-mentioned narrative in a more specific case study, that is one of my research endeavours on artisanal fishing and the river ecology, about the “Kaibarta” indigenous fishing community and the Kulsi- Brahmaputra system. In which, one of the objectives of the study was to document changes in fishing social system and waterscapes over the past 10 years. To which: Besides finding several changes and adaptation mechanisms within the human systems, the most relevant changes (impacts) in the natural system were identified in drastic decline in fish diversity and large scale alteration in riverine ecology (indication of breakage of intact riverine system). The broad causes of which lie in anthropogenic practices of overfishing, rampant sand mining and other construction and building operations in and around the river. While most of the changes in the river system are irrevocable (like disrupting water flows/fish movement by constructing permanent dams), some other changes are (like recovering fish diversity, habitat, water quality) has a possibility of recuperation. However, for such an alteration to happen is not a matter of a few days or even months, which is completely contingent on a categorical ban on human activities in the area. Such a blanket moratorium used to unimaginable up till recent past, however now, the fact that you are reading this piece from your home instead of an office on a weekday is proof that things have become especially different.
At present: We went into the lockdown very abruptly. The circumstances that we are in now are unfamiliar and considerably restrictive. We are somewhere in the 5th week of a nationwide lockdown. We are apparently able to minimize spread of the virus and have increased testing, despite all of which some states like Maharashtra, Gujarat and Delhi have experienced a sustained growth in number of cases and deaths (average confirmed cases of the three states at 4441 and average deaths at 170 till date). Extension of the lockdown seems likely, especially in the above-mentioned states if not entirely nationally. Returning to pre-lockdown state seems obscure. One thing we can be sure of, social-distancing is going to be the new normal, seemingly a mild preclusion but in effect can mean a very unfamiliar way of day-to-day functioning.
With no conclusive vaccine or antidote in sight, it is safe to assume that we are in the thick of the pandemic. While several ordinary things have become out of reach to us, like express movement of people and goods. Essential services of news agencies which are still intact are able to communicate to us the happenings of the world. Overall, it is definitely a novel environment that we are in and it is characteristically hard to process all that we are exposed to, specially the kind of information (or the absence of it) where we see no immediate end to the mayhem that we are in the middle of.
There has been encouraging updates about wars being called off, 100+ year old people recovering from the virus and nature reclaiming in a way that we have not seen before. Extraordinary episodes like jellyfish appearing in the middle of Venice to thousands of Greater Flamingos spotted in Maharashtra, begs the question: if, then how it would have been possible to actively plan and mediate such events in a (1-Corona lockdown) ‘normal’ situation.
While there are perhaps technical solutions that could be imagined for many of these concerns, the larger question still remains whether execution of these decision/intervention would have come through. Which forms into a set of ambiguous questions.
Was it after all not a grand-intricate-technocratic solution that needed to be implemented for nature to have a chance at marginal revival? Is the solution just for us to stay at home for the world to be actually a better place? If so, won’t it be a swell idea to declare a month off every year for nature to recalibrate? These are such simplistic yet addictive notions. Almost unlikely to have outright success.
This piece is my personal attempt to bring in to perspective the impact of humans on the environment, keeping the Corona pandemic in mind. If we take into account some basic statistics, and then, if we were to run a paired t-test between the state of nature before and during the pandemic, it would probably be hard to reject the null hypothesis that our relentless influence/interaction on/with natural entities has no association to the deterioration of biosphere health. Does that mean we have found the ‘fix’? Have we finally reached some kind of a decipherable ‘end’ with nature-human dynamic? I believe there is no straight answer to it, maybe it is the beginning of a new policy regime or maybe we are ideologically still where we were before the lockdown. It is like how Tim Burton says, “Every story has a Beginning, a Middle and an End. Not necessarily in that order.”