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Will Covid-19 teach us how to treat nature?

  • Published at 10:05 pm May 19th, 2020
Climate Change

Lockdown seems to be bringing down greenhouse gas emissions

The whole world unloads corpses with a heavy heart and world leaders seem speechless. The infected cases are mounting at a geometric rate while the number of recovered cases at an arithmetic rate, with shocking consequences.

Besides the economic and social impact of Covid-19, the environmental issue has taken an unexpected turn around the world. Despite a pandemic, it has a positive impact on the environment with negative consequences.

For instance, a drastic drop in the volume of automobile traffic and mass industrial production has resulted in improved levels of air pollution worldwide. Satellite images show that our nature is taking control with less human interference.

Nature is back with fresh air, clean water, and inflatable eco-system services. It seems that nature is breathing and enjoying this little break with us.

Indeed, nature puts its fingers on our eyes. So, how should we behave with our environment? And what could be the worst scenario if we don’t stop our encroachment and misuse of nature?

The virus has taught us a great lesson on what is important -- to protect the environment -- which no policy intervention has been able to do.

On the contrary, while the Earth seems to heal in some respects, the impact of Covid-19 on the environment takes a different turn. First, increasing medical waste and waste-water generation as well as electricity consumption has negative consequences.

Around the world, the use of plastic, masks, personal protective equipment, and other medical equipment is increasing faster than ever, creating tons and tons of dangerous medical waste. Hospitals in Wuhan produced more than 200 tons of waste a day at the peak of their outbreak, compared to an average of fewer than 50 tons prior.

Second, in addition to medical waste, the amount of household waste has increased steadily, as more and more people buy online and order deliveries, which come with a lot of packaging.

The problem is more serious in many developing countries, given that there is no proper disposal system or recycling centre for waste. Thus, users throw this waste here and there, which pollutes the fresh air and clean water.

Third, it has been noted that to be saved from Covid-19, worldwide, the waste-water generation has been increasing in the name of cleanliness. This outbreak, worldwide, can create a shortage of fresh water.

Fourth, according to the World Economic Forum, due to this pandemic, the loss of habitat and illegal wildlife trade can spread animal-borne problems, like zoonotic diseases. This further indicates the significant interlinking of biodiversity loss and the flexibility of consistent supply chains in the global economy.

Scientists suspect the direct connection between rainforests and coronavirus. As it is suspected, coronavirus initially spread from bats then pangolins then to humans in Wuhan, where lots of animals are sold illegally for meat.

Thus, this virus can easily be transferred from one animal to another which can destroy the ecosystem in the near future.

Last but not least, we suffer from self-deception, believing that costbenefit analysis and mitigation policy would allow us to end the climate change problems. We also endlessly debate on the optimal solutions.

However, the virus taught us otherwise, that what matters is more on how we behave. To live on this planet, human behaviour must change to protect and preserve nature.

During a pandemic, we understand that it is just as important to flatten the curve of climate change and environmental destruction as it is to flatten the curve of Covid-19.

Recent research shows that we are not doing enough and it’s not possible to bring the temperature down in our fight for climate change. As we can see, only the lockdown is able to drop greenhouse gas emissions significantly around the world.

Therefore, in order to protect human health, livelihoods, wildlife resilience, biodiversity, and the most vulnerable, it is the right time to frame and polish our ideas and put in place the planning and strategy to invest in new opportunities, specifically those leading to behavioural changes which are environmentally friendly.

Muhammad Mehedi Masud is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Development Studies, Faculty of Economics and Administration, University of Malaya. 

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