Covid-19, Environment

Is Earth breathing again?

            The ongoing Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has adversely impacted the globe in various ways. Some of the impact is irreversible while some of it could be turned around. The present crisis could be even termed as a watershed moment for humanity. However, this is not humanity’s first bout with a dangerous and infective disease; we have faced pandemics before (Plague of Athens, Plague of Justinian, The Black Death, Influenza Pandemic of 1510, The First Cholera Pandemic, The Spanish Flu, The Asian Flu, HIV/AIDS Pandemic, 2002-04 SARS Outbreak, 2009 “Swine” Flu Pandemic, Ebola Virus Pandemic, et al)[1]. What set the present scenario apart from previous ones, are two things: a. High infectivity of the Novel Coronavirus strain[2] and b. The world has never been more connected, countries have never been more interdependent. Needless to say, COVID-19 has facilitated a disastrous impact on the global economy, along with politics, society, religion and financial structures around the world[3].

            Setting aside the aforesaid effects of COVID-19 on humanity, the result of lockdowns, quarantines and travel bans[4] initiated by and across all nations for halting the spread of the disease is an intriguing one, as far as the environment is concerned.

            For decades, scientists all over the world have been harping on about global warming and mankind’s carbon footprint[5]. The environmental crisis had undoubtedly reached its zenith in the last decade[6]. Environmental activists have continued their protests for better handling of the environmental crisis. All that drastically changed with the advent of COVID-19 at the beginning of 2020.

            A major feature of enforcing a complete lockdown everywhere is the fact that no one is travelling (for work or leisure) anymore; people are working from their homes thanks to technology, particularly the World Wide Web. Plying of automobiles has been brought to an almost complete standstill (same with aeroplanes, waterways, and railways), resulting in a massive drop in carbon emissions globally; most particularly in China and India. It is estimated that there has been a drop in global carbon emissions by almost 25 percent till now[7]. This bears good news for numerous cities around the world. An example may be provided in this respect, of New Delhi[8]. Not only transportation, but the global shutdown of industries

[1] “en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_epidemics” – Accessed on 06.05.2020, 13:03 hours.

[2]https://www.who.int/news-room/commentaries/detail/modes-of-transmission-of-virus-causing-covid-19-implications-for-ipc-precaution-recommendations” – Accessed on 06.05.2020, 13:05 hours.

[3]https://moderndiplomacy.eu/2020/04/22/impact-of-covid-19-on-global-economy-structure/” – Accessed on 06.05.2020, 13:07 hours.

[4]https://www.bbc.com/news/world-52103747” 

[5]https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2019/12/the-decade-we-finally-woke-up-to-climate-change/”, see also, “https://www.wri.org/blog/2019/12/6-ways-climate-changed-over-past-decade

[6]https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-51111176” 

[7]https://www.carbonbrief.org/analysis-coronavirus-has-temporarily-reduced-chinas-co2-emissions-by-a-quarter” 

[8]https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/apr/11/positively-alpine-disbelief-air-pollution-falls-lockdown-coronavirus” .

has also benefitted the planet[1], pollution and greenhouse gas emissions around the world having been drastically reduced.  

Actions Speak Louder Than Words:

“How dare you!” was a compelling war cry famously uttered by 17 years old environmental activist Greta Thunberg at the 2019 United Nations Climate Action Summit[2] held at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City. Her speech consisted of a well-articulated assertion that humanity has always and continues to prefer economic growth to a sustainable environment. Indeed, humankind has reaped large benefits by exploiting the environment ever since the Industrial Revolution. At times, such actions have been excruciatingly selfish, with dangerous repercussions on our world’s fragile ecosystem. Be it the erosion of green cover from Earth’s surface, be it dumping plastic all over the oceans or depletion of minerals, degradation has been the order of the day when it comes to Earth’s treasures, which we consider our resources. Quite a lot has been pledged, but very little has been actually done to combat the adverse effects on the environment precipitated by human actions, resulting in unwanted consequences[3].

COVID-19 has severely affected our civilization, both on biological terms as well as economically. However, it has taught us one vital lesson; that we cannot take planet Earth and her ecosystem for granted. Our actions concerning the environment throughout the ages have longstanding consequences that may be felt by generation after generation.

Let us, for a moment, delve deeper into the origins of COVID-19 to better understand the context of the principle referred to in the sub-heading above. It is believed that COVID-19 originated in the “Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market”, located at Wuhan, China[4]. From a study published in Science Direct[5], it is revealed that wild animals such as bats, rabbits, pangolins, et cetera, have been sold for food or traditional Chinese medicine at these wet markets and most, if not all, these animals were being kept and then cooked in grossly unhygienic conditions leading to cross-contamination, that ultimately resulted in transmission of the virus to humans. Wildlife trade is regulated and managed by authority of the United Nations’ Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)[6]. However, illegal wildlife trade has been rampant[7] everywhere, mostly emanating from the incessant demand for use as trophies, souvenirs, manufacture of goods and traditional medicine. The wet markets in

[9]https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/company/corporate-trends/manufacturing-grinds-to-a-halt-in-key-sectors/articleshow/74765038.cms?from=mdr”, See also,

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-03-19/biggest-factory-shutdown-since-ww-ii-sweeps-through-u-s-europe” 

[10]https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/sep/23/world-leaders-generation-climate-breakdown-greta-thunberg” 

[11]https://www.oecd.org/environment/climate-change-consequences-of-inaction.htm” 

[12]https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/2020/04/coronavirus-linked-to-chinese-wet-markets/” 

[13]https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2090123220300540” 

[14]https://www.cites.org/eng/disc/what.php” 

[15]https://www.worldwildlife.org/threats/illegal-wildlife-trade” – 

China involved in wildlife trade were banned during the initial outbreak of SARS in 2002-03, but were allowed to open again thereafter. However, it is speculated that the present ban may be of a permanent nature[1].

If anything, the impact of our actions on the biodiversity of the planet is well established in light of the ongoing pandemic.

The Way Forward (Conclusion):

            The future of human civilization as we know it in the 21st century has never been more uncertain. Till date, people have been infected worldwide and more than two million people have died from COVID-19[2]. Economically, the situation looks grim. As per reports, oil prices in the United States have fallen to negative, resulting from lack of demand[3]. Environmentally, COVID-19 has exposed a lot of the adverse effects humanity has had on the ecosystem since the beginning of the Industrial Age. It comes as no surprise that a month and a half’s inactivity on the industrial and automotive front has so effectively healed our planet. The present circumstances have left no doubt that the future lies not in fossil energy, but renewable, alternative sources of energy. Investments in renewable sources of energy have been proposed by quite a few legislations throughout the world. 

            In ancient Greek religion, Gaia was considered a primordial deity who was planet Earth personified. Among all the devastation COVID-19 has caused globally, quite curiously, it has aided Gaia in breathing again.   

Co-contributors: Arnab Sengupta and Souvik Dutta, Lawyers , High Court at Calcutta        

[16]https://www.newscientist.com/article/2239559-coronavirus-china-wildlife-trade-ban-could-become-law-within-months/” 

[17]https://covid19.who.int/” 

[18]https://www.bbc.com/news/business-52350082

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