As close to a fourth of humanity goes into lockdown, the impact on the environment has been immediate, and visible. How much of this could sustain?
Barely a week into the lockdown in India, and even as real clarity on the Coronavirus pandemic that has caused it remains cloudy, much clarity has happened elsewhere.
For starters, the blame game behind the pollution levels in cities. After all those studies and theories and much more, it can be conclusively stated that vehicular pollution is responsible for contributing a full 50-60 percent of total pollution on any given day, in the most polluted cities. This has been proven by not only the drop in pollution as the lockdown had progressed, with vehicles all but taken out of the equation, but also the final levels at which AQI levels have held steady.
This is not Dubai, Sydney or Singapore. It is Gurugram with AQI 17.
We can do it ! pic.twitter.com/sIiTvsQr2J
— Aloke Bajpai (@alokebajpai) March 28, 2020
For many people, especially the young, the lower pollution has meant a night sky, and daytime visibility that they had never experienced previously in cities like Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai, Chennai. One hopes that this will help many more to appreciate the difference in quality of life lower pollution can deliver.
In city after city, videos have been made of animals, and birds, rarely or even never seen before, making an appearance. Once again, making many more people more aware of the space that they share with these fellow travellers on earth
— Kesha Yadav (@keshay001) March 29, 2020
While the manner by which we have received these ‘gifts’ from the lockdown is hardly something one would wish for again, one certainly hopes that the window the experience has opened to a cleaner environment, will remind people to do more for it, as the situation eventually normalises. As in, our new normal should ideally never be at AQI levels of 250 and well beyond, as compared to the sub 50 levels we have today, across most of India.
Another area one hopes to see more appreciation for, is the stuff we take for granted. We should count our blessings that it is still early into the summer, and water shortages are not an issue. With the middle class finally having to run their houses without domestic helps, a better appreciation of water is a must. How much is needed to wash, and why, the right habits when it comes to using utensils etc matter. So do you really need to use a fresh glass to drink water every time? Think about it. Even if you are not the one washing utensils for a change. With a worry of what tomorrow might bring, mot people have moved to naturally conserve usage of water. It’s a habit they would do well to cultivate, and carry on well beyond when the lockdown is over .
It’s not been all good of course. With huge numbers of people distressed, rules such as using less plastic, or distributing food in eco-friendly containers have been quietely given the o by for now, as the immediate needs of those in distress prevail over the need to use less plastic. One hopes that in time, this is an area where things will soon revert to normal soon.
Internationally, the news of a comprehensive ban in china on consumption of wildlife and their breeding is welcome. Let’s all hope and pray that this time, it is permanent. Twice before, China has banned it, only to restore status quo under pressure from the vast market that exists in that country for using wild animal parts and their consumption, in some Chinese medicine and as a status symbol too. This needs to be stopped for good.
Perhaps the greatest impact is set to happen in the travel space. From personal travel to official travel to global tourism, all have suffered massive blows, and some of the changes will have a lasting impact. Not only does the travel sector run the serious risk of shrinking due to closures and bankruptcies caused by evaporation of business, for many people, the enforced work from home regime is bound to lead to long term changes too. Firms, that had hitherto been wary of supporting WFH policies, or flexible working, will be a lot more open after this experience. With the heavy toll taken on older people by the virus, senior management in any case may never quite travel the way it used to before the Covid 19 pandemic happened.
We have argued earlier on how peak oil might have already happened in 2019, with even the post Corona oil use unlikely to recover back to 2019 levels by 2021 or even 2022. After which, oil use in any case might stagnate, or even start declining slowly, as more EV’s and higher fuel taxes in more parts of the world are used to pay for the green energy transition. India’s experience by then is likely to serve as a stellar example.
Consider how difficult it was to find amounts to fight climate change. In just two short weeks, the world has coughed up an estimated 5 trillion dollars, and counting, in the battle against the impact of the Coronavirus. Surely, climate change, which demanded barely a tenth of this figure spread over a period, deserves more? In a cruel irony, the reduced pollution and road accidents due to the lockdown have already saved a far greater number of lives than those lost to the virus so far, if one goes by the historical record. Surely an argument to push for higher investments into saving the environment, if there ever was.
But perhaps the biggest learning, and impact from the lockdown, is the new belief in community response. A lot that was considered impossible or not even worth contemplating till a few weeks ago, is a reality today, in terms of ever wider communities working together to fight the spread of the virus. For equally pressing, although not immediately deadly issues like climate change, or the environmental crisis, one could argue, that this new found belief in community driven actions could be harnessed very well. Imagine a whole country declaring that they will not use any plastic for a day. Or put off a trip for a day. After the lockdown, these will seem like child’s play for many. Perhaps, humanity will get something good out of the coronavirus tragedy after all. A renewed belief in the power of humanity.