Humans and Nature has been in a face-off quite frequently as we moved into 2020. We are not even a couple of months far from the Australian fires in which we lost more than 1 billion mammals, birds and reptiles. Around 25,000 Koalas were feared dead on Kangaroo Island and their habitat too wiped out in these fires. A Forest fire is not an alien concept for Australia during summers. According to data of last few decades, the seasonal fires are frequent, unprecedentedly earlier than its usual time period. The warm spells on ice caps and glaciers in Antarctica region were quite harsh this year. In February the weather stations recorded hottest temperature on record. According to many glaciologists, they haven’t encountered the melt ponds so rapidly earlier in Antarctica. Antarctica recorded its highest temperature this year at 18.3 degree Celsius. We were not yet far from the above havocs, which are directly or indirectly going to affect us all, our world has been shattered with another, a pandemic called COVID-19. COVID-19, a zoonotic, viral disease, has killed more than thousands of humans around the world including hundreds in India. Zoonoses i.e. transmission of diseases between wild animals and humans are not only a threat to human well-being but also it threatens the economic development and ecosystem integrity. According to a report by UNEP, these Zoonoses are nothing but the consequence of humanity’s expansion on the terrestrial earth surface, altering almost 75% of it, squeezing the wildlife and nature into an ever smaller corner of earth. There have been reports by institutions on how the zoonotic diseases are on a rise with the changing climate and human encroachment into the wild. The condition we are suffering through is gifted by us to ourselves. We had to ghost the streets and lock ourselves into our houses, giving a pause to our never ending rush to reach somewhere. This lockdown being a luxury to some, many others are suffering through anxiety and stress about how to arrange a meal for a day. As this unimaginable devastating pandemic has brought our life to a complete halt, it is going to leave a lasting economic and social consequence in every part of globe. The bane of wealth inequality on our society, stretching its arms every day, is a dreadful consequence of our ever increasing consumption and exploitation of natural wealth. Globally as we are in lockdown now for almost a month, scientists have observed various visible positive impacts of this halt on the environment. Levels of air pollutants and warming gases over some cities and regions are showing significant drops. In China, the world’s largest carbon emitter, the experts estimate that emissions over past a month have been about 25% lower than normal. In India, New Delhi saw its AQI falling below 95 last week from its normal average of 161, similarly in Punjab which is now declared a ‘green zone’ in past several years. Ludhiana which is among the most polluted city in India was cleanest on March 23 with AQI of 35. Air was so clean for the first time after World War 2, the mighty Dhauladhars in Himachal Pradesh were visible from Jalandhar, due to less pollution. Data from Central Pollution Control Board in one of its reports recently showed the improved water quality of Ganga River, notably in industrial towns through which the river travels. The dissolved oxygen level upstream is 8.7mg per liter and 8.1 mg per liter downstream which is considered well enough for bathing. Scientists, after observing these reducing levels of pollutants in Ganga River believe that the River can recover, which is a silver-lining to the Ganga Action Plan conceived since 1986. This rejuvenating nature which is like a silver-lining to us in middle of the global warming and climate change crises is temporary, which is not good news. As history suggests, global carbon emissions tend to bounce back fairly shortly after a global disturbance ends. Such a trend of increase in carbon emissions has been recorded after the oil crises of 1973 and 1979, 1977 Asian financial crises and 2008 financial crash. As many stimulus programmes for construction and fossil fuel sectors led to rapid growth in large developing economies like India and China. Amidst all these terrible situations, there can be observed a string. A string which is when pulled will solve the complexity of the problem we have put ourselves into now. That one string lays with us, with the most intelligent species on earth, our consumption behavior and our carbon footprints. This lockdown has provided us that string. This pandemic has given us a chance to rethink and understand about to which limit we push nature before its impact is negative. We need to understand and observe our behavioral changes amidst this pandemic and lockdowns. We are not driving 4-5 times a day for menial jobs, which have been a great contributor to responsible use of fuel and less road traffic. We have shifted ourselves to buying local commodities which leaves less carbon footprints as it does not involve the transportations from places far away. We have stopped compulsively consuming things that harm us and environment collaterally. But every coin has another side, it has been observed that, there’s rise in the electricity consumption by individuals, which is obvious. There is also rise in online shopping of groceries and other essential products which adds units to our carbon footprints. This is still a hurdle in changing our unsustainable, consumption habits to cleaner and greener technologies as soon as we get out of this crisis. As we move out of this crisis, the economic stimulus packages composed of infrastructure are designed; there is a real opportunity to meet the demand with green packages of renewable energy, smart investment, smart buildings, green and clean transport. It is an alarm for us that now we need to restore our forests, stop deforestation, invest in management of protected areas. We need to develop an alternate economic system which is more sustainable and viable. We need to develop social institutions which are cooperation based not competition based. There is a need of valuation of Natural Resources along with shifting ourselves to ‘local consumption’ and ‘geoclimatic farming’. By pulling this string of behavioral changes, we can solve the puzzle of degrading conditions of human and wildlife habitats. We can sustainably utilize the natural wealth and live in harmony without compromising the only planet with life. This is time when we must wake up as the ball is still in our court.
– Prarthana Paunikar
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