Environment

Silver lining to the lockdown cloud

The earth might be healing now, but what happens when daily routines start again?

Our skies are clearer thanks to plummeting CO2 and pollution levels, congested tourist spots are breathing easier, and closer home, we are finally noticing and appreciating that tree along the driveway that has several feathered visitors through the day.

If there could ever be a silver lining to the dark and unforgiving cloud that is the coronavirus, it is this: the earth is finally healing. There are no flights emitting chemicals into the sky, no factories releasing chemicals into the sea, no vehicles emitting gases into the streets…. The silver lining has made one thing quite clear: it is we humans who are responsible for today’s state of affairs. And if decades of pillaging the planet wasn’t enough, we have somehow managed to unleash a pandemic upon ourselves.

A quick glance at China’s wildlife trade reveals how the country is putting global health at risk. The many wet markets (including the one in Wuhan where the coronavirus is suspected to have originated) pose countless health risks and have been under the global radar for years. There have been several calls for a crackdown on China’s illegal wildlife markets and trade, but nothing was done despite the deadly SARS outbreak of 2003. A ban was put in place (like now) but swiftly lifted when things settled down.

New learnings

Policy interventions should be non-negotiable, as must lifestyle changes at the individual level. The pandemic and the ongoing lockdown have not only brought about a significant change in our day-to-day lives, but also made us conscious of the resources we have, the privilege they bestow, and the learning that we can do without many things we once thought were indispensable. We are making do with what vegetables we can get, while people in smaller cities where fresh produce is more difficult are making do with pulses and rice. We are perfectly fine without imported avocado, Danish biscuits and quinoa packets. People are using resources judiciously at home, conserving water, not wasting food, ensuring those around us have enough to pull through.

We are learning that driving to the supermarket around the corner isn’t really necessary, a 10-minute walk works just as well. That shopping online for clothes, make-up and even food on the first of every month is not a necessity, perhaps just an impulse. Many friends tell me they have saved quite a bit over the past few weeks as they have spent only on essentials like groceries, rent, and electricity. How about making this a routine for most part of the year?

Will we change?

Only time will tell if we will take back lessons from this period or treat it like an unusual experience. The lockdown has ended in China, but despite warnings from health officials, locals are already flocking tourist sites. And in India, there are many who are still taking the situation lightly: several people (not including the elderly and ill) are asking domestic help to come to work, crowds take to the streets to play drums and burst crackers even when all that was asked of you was to stay indoors and give thanks.

As and when the lockdown nears an end, factories will resume production, traffic will hit the roads again, and airlines will resume operations. While one can’t control these factors, what we can control is how much they impact the environment. For starters, the government has to look into energy-efficient vehicles, control what comes out of our factories, and not brazenly pass laws that involve forests being razed for more projects. As citizens, the least we can do is use resources prudently, travel mindfully, understand the implications of our actions on society and, most importantly, follow the laws in place.

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Printable version | Jun 7, 2020 6:11:44 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/energy-and-environment/the-earth-might-be-healing-during-the-covid-lockdown-but-what-happens-when-daily-routines-start-again/article31297046.ece

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