hina enforced the first lockdown in response to the Covid-19, on January 23 this year, in Wuhan city, the centre of the outbreak. In fact, in December 2019, the coronavirus was first identified in this city. The lockdown then was extended to other cities of China. Now the entire world is under the grip of this pandemic with about 2.5 million people having been identified as affected persons as of April 21. Lockdown has been adopted as one of the major measures to stop its spread. This lockdown has opened up opportunities for other species to get some free space to roam around without much fear. As humans, the fastest moving species on Earth, who have basically been growing at the cost of Mother Earth, were put behind four walls of their homes or temporary shelters, the roads got empty, the factories stopped production, the rivers and water bodies got less crowded; the wildlife started to check out on the roads, the cities, rivers, and even swimming pools. Reduced noise pollution, air pollution and water pollution has been a treat offered to these species by the pandemic which has become a horror story for the humans. The plight of humans has definitely been a matter of concern but the happiness of the other species is one of the positive outcomes of this pandemic for sure. The great inequality that exists between humans and other species, in a world which is supposed to see a harmonious co-existence between the two at least ideally, has been undone to some extent. Environmentalists are delighted, nature lovers are so happy to share pictures of freely roaming wildlife on streets and even inside national parks. But, let me warn you, this is a temporary glory, a short term treat. Still, a welcome one!
Lockdown heals the earth
The first signs of nature’s healing came from China just in about a month after the lockdown. Pollution maps of China released by NASA between February 10 and 25 saw a dramatic drop when compared to first three weeks of January. This drastic reduction of pollution over China, according to NASA scientists, was at least partially due to the economic slowdown caused due to the Covid-19 response actions by the country. The mass quarantine halted vehicular movements, production in factories, power plants, air transport and almost everything; dropping thereby pollution levels. Scientists further found that sharp drop in burning of fossil fuel wiped out almost a quarter of the greenhouse gases by mid-February. This is a huge benefit for Mother Earth, especially as it’s coming from a country that contributes about 27 percent to the global Green House Gas (GHG) emissions. As other countries went into the same kind of actions, such news of reduced pollution and emission started coming from all over the world. A latest analysis of satellite data by the scientists from Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute finds that air pollution level of some of the European cities such as Paris, Madrid, Milan, and Rome has seen a drop of nearly 50 percent compared to the previous year. Most of this is attributed to the Covid-19 actions that have put a big brake on the economies. Studies have shown that many cities of the US have also observed sharp drop in air pollution. In fact, many cities experienced the lowest monthly atmospheric nitrogen dioxide levels for March on record. Cities likeWashington DC, Boston, Philadelphia and New York have seen significant improvement in air quality compared to pre-Corona lockdown periods, as observed by satellites. Studies of air quality for Indian cities have also found drastic improvement in quality of the air due to the halt of economic activities, vehicular movements and lockdown of people. Over 90 cities of the country have come into news for reporting such improvements. The nationwide lockdown has led to drastic drop in PM2.5 (fine particulate pollutant) in many cities including Delhi, Ahmedabad and Pune that have experienced a drop by 30, 15 and 15 percent respectively, according to the System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research (SAFAR). Measurements by the Central Pollution Control Board (CBCB) have also shown significant improvements in air quality of cities across the nation. Overall, actions by world governments to manage Covid-19 have brought in an unintended yet much needed respite for Mother Earth. Scientists and others concerned about climate change kept on urging human race to shift to greener paths of development and reduce GHG emissions, but this pandemic sent out a strong message and has forced the economic growth to slow down reducing GHG emissions drastically. Rob Jackson, a professor at the Stanford University and chair of Global Carbon Project, has been quoted by the grist.org saying, “We could see emissions declines of 5 per cent or more in 2020.” “We haven’t seen that in my lifetime. We really haven’t seen anything comparable to that until you go back to World War-II.”
Corona has done to Ganga what even Namami Gange could not do. Water in many stretches of the river is now fit even for drinking, something that has been beyond imagination for decades. Monitoring reports of the CBCB have found that many stretches of the river which did not only violate drinking water standards but also hardly recorded any dissolved oxygen in January this year have now shown tremendous improvements in mid-March and are fit for drinking. Similar stories are being heard about many other rivers and people are jubilant finding less pollution and increased movement of fishes and other species. Pollution associated with industries and agriculture has certainly reduced and the capacity of rivers to clean the remaining pollutants has increased because of increased flow due to reduced extraction of water. However, it is difficult to say that all the rivers have actually been cleaned as long as the domestic wastes from cities flow untreated.
Scenes we may not see in our lifetime again
On 31st March, the Guardian posted a video showing that a herd of goats has taken over the deserted streets of Llandudno, north Wales, where the residents are in lockdown during the coronavirus pandemic. On April 6, the Esquiremag posted over the weekend, that the world was treated to an exceedingly rare sight that has not been seen since World War II: the Himalayan mountaintops in very clear view. “Residents from Indian cities as far away as Punjab saw a bright white expanse over the horizon, realizing it was the snow-capped tops of the Himalayas. That is like seeing the mountains of Benguet from Manila, more than 230 kilometres away,” the magazine reported. Social media users are truly elated and many have posted photos and videos of animals and birds taking over the streets of India and elsewhere.
Let it be our first real fight against Climate Change
Corona has given the much needed break to Mother Earth for sure. However, I have no reasons to believe that things will be any different for the natural resources and other species once we are out of the lockdown, once our factories start producing again, once the flights start operating again, once the power plants run in their full might. Deforestation, decimation of wildlife, and destruction of natural resources have been the main cause of not only increased occurrences of epidemics but also in reducing our abilities to cope with those. We can certainly not run our business as usual anymore. We should not aspire to return to the normal we were in. Rather, a new normal needs to be set, a new world order has to be established. Growth has to go in harmony with Mother Earth and not at her cost. Actually, the fight against Corona should be seen as the real first step towards our fight against Climate Change. They are the same. The one against Corona has made us unintentionally slow down growth that destroys nature, the one against Climate Change should do this intentionally. As humans die in hundreds of thousands, let Corona remind us of what the Danish author Karen Blixen had said: “If only I could so live and so serve the world that after me there should never again be birds in cages.”