The virus is saving lives as the Earth is healing

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The virus is saving lives as the Earth is healing

Thursday, 02 April 2020 | Kota Sriraj

Stanford University has conducted a research on the long-term benefits of this current rejuvenation of the planet due to the lockdowns and the study showed that humanity will benefit tremendously in future due to the respite received by the environment

As the old proverb goes, “Every dark cloud has a silver lining.” The ongoing COVID-19 crisis, too, has a silver lining as it has given the environment the much-needed break from the relentless   degradation and exploitation by mankind.

The Earth is healing itself even as its biggest “parasite”   humanity, grapples with the virus by practicing social distancing amid strict lockdowns. Suddenly, the urban as well as peri-urban areas have started experiencing a resurgence of nature as the lockdowns have brought with them fresh air, clearer skies and the revival of urban wildlife.

The social media is abuzz with citizens posting pictures of the night sky glittering with stars that were not visible till now in most cities due to the pollution. They are also posting videos of wildlife like deer, Blue Bulls, the rare Indian Civet and so on, straying into towns. There are more birds singing these days and the flora is actually looking green instead of the usual dusty brown. The light showers in the last few weeks have only helped to further bring down pollution and freshen up nature.

The city of Wuhan, the epicentre of the COVID-19 pandemic has been witnessing clear blue skies and fresh air instead of the usual low-hanging smog. In fact, satellite images of China collated by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), showed major reduction in Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) levels due to the restrictions imposed in the wake of the virus containment efforts. The European Space Agency (ESA) also reported similar findings of a drop in NO2 levels across Europe, especially Italy. The canals of Venice, now devoid of the boat traffic sport clearer waters with a fresh spurt in aquatic life.

Furthermore, the suspension of all air traffic in most parts of the world, including India and  the lack of vehicular traffic on roads due to the lockdowns have considerably reduced pollution levels and especially eased particulate matter (PM) 2.5 woes.

Stanford University has conducted a research on the long-term benefits of this current rejuvenation of the planet and the study showed that humanity will stand to benefit tremendously in future due to the respite received by the environment. These benefits would translate into lives being saved on account of reduced pollution levels of the PM 2.5 kind, which claim lives of children and the elderly.

The study’s findings were eventually published in the interdisciplinary group, Global Food, Environment and Economic Dynamics (GFEED). Other research data from across the world also supports these findings and additionally suggests that China is currently experiencing a 25 per cent drop in Carbon Dioxide emissions which is equivalent to 200 tonnes.

Research aside, the fact that it required a pandemic for the environment to experience this much-required relief and recovery, is appalling. Our daily routines do not offer any concessions or respite for the environment. Neither do the periodic climate conferences which become a battleground of opposing views but witness very little meaningful action in the best interests of the planet. In India, too, the peak polluting months witness us adopting environmental-conservation measures in a half-hearted manner. Compliance with regulations then, is not anywhere near the current level of obedience that we are witnessing now regarding the lockdowns. This is unfortunate as it shows that we humans respond with sincerity only when our lives are threatened.

The current phase can be a major learning curve for the Indian Government and environmental authorities. The pattern of public behaviour and response to a matter of community emergency is evident here and the Government must take note of the same. So that in future, when environmental conditions worsen and require a community-based action the Government can follow a similar methodology. This is essential because the current lockdown rules — though not 100 per cent successful — have been followed sincerely by many of the citizens.

The current situation also highlights another important aspect of how nations and governments measure the real-time improvement or deterioration of the environment. The authoritative and authentic satellite visuals of the ESA and NASA were relied upon to draw conclusions on the state of the environment of China and Europe. India, too, must stop politics over environmental assessment and data collection and instead rely on impartial international data. This will provide the real picture and disable any attempts at manipulation of State agency data by vested interests.

The rejuvenation of the Earth comes as a succor at the time of anguish and pain to mankind. Every human being pauses, even if it is for a second, to marvel at the beauty of nature and forgets the hardships being faced in this difficult time. If humanity needs a break from this pandemic, the environment needs a break from us.

(The writer is an environmental journalist)

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