Could corona become the panacea for climate crisis?

The Corona crisis is forcing the humankind to change its way of life and care about its future, writes Pari Saikia

The unprecedented Covid-19 crisis has had an unexpected spin-off — the drastic reduction in carbon emissions across the world. As billions of people around the world confine themselves to their homes in a deadly pandemic, the atmosphere is showing remarkable improvement in terms of air quality. The wild animals have been seen roaming the cities and places where they earlier dreaded to set their foot. As the industries shut down, the rivers and streams are regaining their blue appearance. And so the humankind wonders, should this be taken as the signal of the nature starting to discipline us into being responsible and kind towards the planet’s resources?

Prerna Prasad, a Delhi-based environmentalist, says it’s a wake-up call for us all to mend our ways and respect nature in every way we can. “The reduction in pollution in the last few months is a sign that we need to change our lifestyles and adopt environment-friendly methods in every aspect of our life. When the life goes back to normal after the lockdown, we should remember that it’s possible to heal our planet only if we do something about it.”

Ever since the start of industrial revolution back in 18th century, the earth has been suffering the devastating consequences of the carbon emissions, which the scientists now claim is irreversible. One of the prime concerns has been the global warming, caused by the accumulating carbon in the atmosphere, which has already started affecting our lives. The global warming has caused the glaciers at the earth’s poles to melt and according to the leading agencies, such as the data from NASA’s earth observation satellites, that pace is now quickening. Using advanced laser technology, NASA’s satellites have recorded the most accurate picture of the melting ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica.

According to a study published last month in the journal Science, the melting ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica contributed to 14 millimetres of sea level rise between 2003 and 2019. The data says the Greenland’s ice sheet lost an average of 200 gigatons of ice a year, contributing up to two-thirds of the sea level rise.

However, the humankind went on with its business of life, oblivious to the catastrophic repercussions of the carbon build-up in our atmosphere, too absorbed in its hollow vanities. But now the nature says — No more! We have been reckless and careless so far, indulging ourselves with all the luxuries our mother earth offered us, without bothering to be responsible about it. Our development models are based on the exploitation of earth’s resources, more exploitation means more economy, and more harm to our planet. As long as our development needs depend on the exploitation of earth’s resources, the future is unsustainable. The population boom has contributed significantly to the pollution problem. But now with almost 80 per cent of the traffic from the roads gone, and factories and industries shutting down, there is a temporary relief. As the Covid-19 lockdown began in China in February, the satellites showed a stunning improvement in the air quality over the affected regions. And as the rest of the world implemented the lockdown the air quality index peaked, and we are breathing the clearest air in decades. All of this has made it abundantly clear that human economic activity is inversely proportional to the health of our planet, the more we exploit the more our earth suffers.

The salvation for humankind

The humanity can choose to change the way it has been carrying on with life from here on. We can remodel our development needs and align them with what’s best for the health of our planet. The shift to the renewable sources of energy is inevitable. The change should begin from our homes, about how we live a lifestyle which is nature-friendly and saves for the posterity. That could include reducing the use of plastic materials, using eco-friendly materials in our homes, using methods which help save water and electricity and a number of such measures. Our old ways will have to change.

Climate change is the most pressing problem for the mankind in the 21st century, and it’s not too late to change our lifestyles. According to Prerna, there are a number of steps we can take starting from our homes, which includes segregation of waste, tree plantation, use of non-plastic carry bags, cutting the use of water filters which create too much of waste water, use of clay utensils, etc. From the home-based steps, we proceed to the much bigger goals of cutting our carbon footprint, using public transportation, which should include the urge for educating and informing the general public about the benefits of living an eco-friendly lifestyle.

The Covid-19 aftermaths have given us a glimpse of how it’s possible to heal the nature and correct our mistakes of the past and move to a future which is safe for future generations.

The government and its institutions have a huge role to play in such a mission, but ultimately it’s up to the citizens to be the ultimate reformers. Hopefully, this pandemic will accelerate the global transition to a cleaner mode of energy, such as the renewables.

We are faced with the double whammy of the Corona and the climate change, both of which threaten the very existence of human life. It seems the way out of this is by surviving both the challenges and learning to adapt. As the world emerges from the Corona crisis, it will have to do so cautiously and carefully.

The people may have to live with some of the newly-adopted habits for a long time, including staying at home for longer periods, not using vehicles, avoiding public gatherings, minimum contact and less travel.

As India’s Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan said, the coronavirus could be a blessing in disguise’ if people imbibe good hygiene practices. “By now, we know that fighting coronavirus is no rocket science. If behavioural changes such as hand, environmental and respiratory hygiene, which are being practised more rigorously during this period, get imbibed in society it will become the new normal. Rightly so, this period should teach the people many lessons. Going back to nature-friendly way of life is no longer a choice for the humanity, it’s the inevitability. The more sooner we realise the better it will be for us.”