“The global coronavirus pandemic, which has already caused unimaginable devastation and hardship, has brought our way of life to an almost complete halt. The outbreak will have profound and lasting economic and social consequences in every corner of the globe. In the face of such turmoil, as the United Nations Secretary-General has indicated, COVID-19 will require a response like none before – a “war-time” plan in times of human crisis.
And as we inch from a “war-time” response to “building back better”, we need to take on board the environmental signals and what they mean for our future and wellbeing, because COVID-19 is by no means a “silver lining” for the environment. (UN Environment Programme (UNEP), Inger Andersen)
Coronavirus has taken life of a lot of people all across the globe till date. As soon as we switch on the television or the radios our ears get flooded with the similar negative news from all around the world. To prevent the spread of COVD-19, governments of different nations are taking multiple steps and doing all that can be done to control the spread. However, if we pay a close eye to all that is happening around us owing to the spread of this virus, we will notice that all the negative effects of coronavirus are restricted to the mankind only. As far as our co-owners of the earth are concerned, the flora and fauna as well as the nature itself, they are enjoying the positives out of this deadly virus. It seems as if the plants and animals are reclaiming the land that we forgot to share with them or instead snatched away from them. Also, it is quite vivid that environment seems to have pressed the hidden reset button that it had, to replenish itself. All of these can be categorized as the positive side effects of COVID-19.
However, the subsequent lockdown of cities in the world has contributed to a reduction in pollution that, according to a Stanford University researcher, may prevent 50,000 to 75,000 people from dying prematurely. This demonstrates a trade-off between consumption-driven society (and its interference with nature) and the resiliency of nature and ecosystems.
Regardless of its cause or origin, the emergence of COVID-19 has underscored the mutually-affective relationship between people and nature. Now, we must try to understand and appreciate the limits to which humans can push nature, before the impact is negative. Those limits must be embraced by our consumption and production aspiration.
In Nigeria, the streets of our major cities, are deserted after authorities implemented a strict lockdown, extensive travel restrictions are in place in Nigeria and around the world, bustling pubs, bars and theatres have been closed and people have been told to stay in their homes. Worldwide, flights are being cancelled or turning around in mid-air, as the aviation industry buckles. Those who are able to do so are holed up at home, practicing social distancing and working remotely.
It is all aimed at controlling the spread of Covid-19, and hopefully reducing the death toll. But all this change has also led to some unexpected consequences. As industries, transport networks and businesses have closed down, it has brought a sudden drop in carbon emissions.
Only an immediate and existential threat like Covid-19 could have led to such a profound change so fast; at the time of writing, global deaths from the virus had passed 160,000, with more than 2,000,000 cases confirmed worldwide. While Nigeria has had an approximate case of 500 with a death figure of 19. The pandemic has brought widespread job losses and threatened the livelihoods of millions as businesses struggle to cope with the restrictions being put in place to control the virus. Economic activity has stalled and stock markets have tumbled alongside the falling carbon emissions. It’s the precisely opposite of the drive towards a decarbonised, sustainable economy that many have been advocating for decades.
Positive impact on the Environment
- Clear blue skies
Over the decades gone by, most of the cities around the world actually forgot the colour of the sky. To the kids of new generation, we had literally no real time example to prove that the colour of the sky is blue as each time we looked up the sky appeared to be gloomy and filled with smoke. Today, when the production of almost everything is on halt and factories are no longer as active as they used to be, the emission of smoke has lessened which has resulted in clear sky, the blue one as we had known it since we were born.
- Pollution free air
A lot of industries have come to halt owing to COVID-19 spread. Not only this, there have been minimal use of vehicles on road. All this have contributed towards lowered CO2-emissions. Not only this, the emission of nitrogen dioxide has also reduced. This indicates that air has become more pure implying that we can once again breathe pure and naturally filtered air.
- Less planes in sky
With the advancement of technology, people got an access to explore every nook and corner of the world which raised the demands for flights. With increase in number of flights, not only did the air traffic increase but the quality of air that we breathe also exacerbated. Every time we looked up towards the sky all that we could see were fewer birds and more airplanes flying. However, with the travel restrictions due to spread of coronavirus this is no longer the case. Birds have begun to spread their wings once again in the boundary that always belonged to them.
To combat coronavirus, companies have asked workers to work from home. This has reduced vehicles on road. In addition to this, the consumption of plastic has also reduced as people no longer have tea or coffee in those disposable glasses. Also, they now print less and shop less. In one way or the other, all of this is contributing towards the good health of the environment.
- Going green
For some time only but people have become conscious about what they eat. People now try having only fruits and vegetables. Many have said good bye to meat while others have temporarily paused consumption of non-vegetarian food. People are being forced by the nature to opt for dietary options that are relevant from the view point of sustainable development. This is again a positive indicator as far as health of environment is concerned.
In this competitive era where all of us have to follow a hectic schedule, we honestly have very little time to think and act the way that is best for our health. Consequently, we have never had thought about the way we are treating the environment and the scarce natural resources. However, now when due to lock down we are forced to stay back home, almost all of us have ample time to think and reflect on our actions. We have now become aware about how we have been wasting water while bathing and brushing, wasting electricity by keeping laptops, computers, televisions on just to save the time and effort of switching them on and off time and again and a lot of similar things. We have found ourselves guilty of having wasted so much food, so much paper and obviously so many natural resources. This guilt of self-realization is helping mankind to eradicate all the wrong that has been done. There is no denying the fact that coronavirus has had catastrophic impacts on mankind. However, it has surely given the environment a chance to self-heal and reclaim what belongs to nature. It is a big lesson for humans to mend their ways otherwise nature knows how to reclaim what belongs to it. Though it has already been too late for humans to eradicate their actions but it is rightly said that better late than never. Hope mother earth heals itself soon and give its children to take care of it once again by helping world to get rid of this pandemic.
This pandemic that is claiming people’s lives certainly shouldn’t be seen as a way of bringing about environmental change either. For one thing, it’s far from certain how lasting this dip in emissions will be. When the pandemic eventually subsides, will carbon and pollutant emissions “bounce back” so much that it will be as if this clear-skied interlude never happened? Or could the changes we see today have a more persistent effect?
The impact from today’s outbreak is not predicted to lead to anywhere near the same number of deaths, and it is unlikely to lead to widespread change in land use. Its environmental impacts are more akin to those of recent world events, such as the financial crash of 2008 and 2009. “Then, global emissions dropped immensely for a year,” says Pongratz. Any positive environmental impact in the wake of this abhorrent pandemic, must therefore be in our changing our production and consumption habits towards cleaner and greener. Because only long-term systemic shifts will change the trajectory of CO2 levels in the atmosphere. So, in the aftermath of the crisis, when economic stimulus packages composed of infrastructure are designed, there is a real opportunity to meet that demand with green packages of renewable energy investments, smart buildings, green and public transport, etc.
“Surface sampling of coronavirus disease (COVID-19): A practical “how to” protocol for health care and public health professionals”
Emmanuel Afenokhai is an environmental consultant and ICT specialist.