COVID-19 pandemic: World now greener, quieter

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COVID-19 pandemic: World now greener, quieter

Wednesday, 22 April 2020 | MANAS RANJAN SENAPATI

In 1969 at a Unesco conference in San Francisco, peace activist John McConnell proposed a day to honour the earth. It was first celebrated on March 21, 1970, the first day of spring in the northern hemisphere.

This day of nature's equipoise was later sanctioned in a proclamation written by McConnell and signed by Secretary General U Thant at the United Nations. A month later a United States Senator Gaylord Nelson proposed the idea to hold a nationwide environmental teach-in on April 22, 1970.

He hired a young activist, Denis Hayes, to be the National Coordinator. Nelson and Hayes renamed the event “Earth Day. It now is observed in 192 countries, and coordinated by the non profit Earth Day Network, chaired by the first Earth Day 1970 organiser Denis Hayes, according to whom Earth Day is now "the largest secular holiday in the world, celebrated by more than a billion people every year.”

Earth Day 2020 is the 50th anniversary of the day. The theme for the Earth Day 2020 is climate action. The world is observed a greener and quieter in these days due to COVID-19 pandemic. With vehicles off the streets, seismologists investigating earthquakes in London, Brussels and Los Angeles report that the ambient noise levels are so low that they are now better able to detect even smaller seismic events in these cities.

On Earth Day 2016, the landmark Paris Agreement was signed by the United States, China, and some 120 other countries. This signing satisfied a key requirement for the entry into force of the historic draft climate protection treaty adopted by consensus of the 195 nations present at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris.

The COVID -19 has made it possible which these agreements even couldn’t. This is potentially good news for the climate because oil is the biggest source of the carbon emissions that are heating the planet and disrupting weather systems. Some analysts believe it could mark the start of a prolonged downward trend in emissions and the beginning of the end for oil. Others strike a more cautious note about the fuel that has dominated our lives and polluted our atmosphere for the past century. Ultimately, the most important environmental impact is likely to be on public perceptions. The pandemic has demonstrated the deadly consequences of ignoring expert warnings, of political delay, and of sacrificing human health and natural landscapes for the economy.

But there are things we do know for sure about how climate affects some diseases. Malaria, for instance, thrives in hotter regions, which is one reason the World Bank estimates that by 2030, 3.6 billion people will be reckoning with it — 100 million as a direct result of climate change.

The most significant way individuals could mitigate their own carbon footprint is to have one less child ("an average for developed countries of 58.6?tonnes CO2-equivalent (tCO2e) emission reductions per year"), followed by living car-free (2.4 tonnes CO2-equivalent per year), forgoing air travel (1.6 tonnes CO2-equivalent per trans-Atlantic trip) and adopting a plant-based diet (0.8 tonnes CO2-equivalent per year). The choice of diet is a major influence on a person's carbon footprint. Animal sources of protein (especially red meat), rice (typically produced in high methane-emitting paddies), foods transported long-distance or via fuel-inefficient transport (e.g., highly perishable produce flown long-distance) and heavily processed and packaged foods are among the major contributors to a high carbon diet. Options to reduce the carbon footprint of humans include 'Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and Refuse.' The carbon handprint movement emphasizes individual forms of carbon offsetting, like using more public transportation or planting trees in deforested regions, to reduce one's carbon footprint and increase their "handprint”.

(Dr Senapati is Dean Science, BPUT & Professor of Chemistry Trident Academy of Technology, Odisha)

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