Sitting in my room on this hot summer day, listening to the chirping of birds, a thought runs in my mind. That something strange is happening. Not the lock down, not the hoarding of essentials and not the falling economy. Something else is afoot. Suddenly, the air around us is clean and the fog of pollution has lifted, even among developed countries as well as in cities like New York and Delhi.
Coronavirus has led to a drastic shutdown of economic activity and therefore, reduction in the use of fossil fuels. Quoting a New York times article, in China, measures to contain the virus in February, 2020 alone caused a drop in carbon emissions of an estimated 25%. For comparison, this is equivalent to 200 million tons of carbon dioxide- more than half the annual emissions of Britain.
No doubt, the coronavirus pandemic is a tragedy. Lakhs of people overcrowding the hospitals, thousands losing their lives, unemployment rates soaring high, the economic growth reaching an all time low, this pandemic is nothing short of a nightmare. But another pressing question is that, were all these problems caused by the pandemic alone? Didn’t earth need this break for long?
Due to the pandemic, the rates of toxic pollutants like nitrogen dioxide have seen a serious dip. Air pollution, before the pandemic was responsible for the deaths of 4.2 million people a year, due to various illnesses like stroke, heart disease and respiratory illnesses. While reduction in particulate matter in the atmosphere, which is the deadliest form of air pollution, most likely saved the lives of 4000 young children and 73,000 elderly people in China over two months (February and March) in 2020.
Keeping in mind, that these are the statistics for only one country, it puts a serious question to my mind. These statistics were always available, the reality was always known. Why did it take a pandemic to remind us about the quality of life we are capable of living?
City Soundscapes are Changing
Taking a quick example, with less commuting, there has been a reduction in the noise that arises from transportation. The quiet around us measures just under 65 decibels. For comparison, a subway train rumbling past records 95 decibels, chronic exposure to which could result in impaired hearing. The decibels are reducing each day. Not surprisingly, we can hear birds chirping outside. Question that comes to my mind: we as human beings have always liked quiet, peaceful environments. Not everyone was fond of the constant noise. Why couldn’t we experience this peace before the pandemic? Why did it take us so long to experience the beauty the earth is?
(Photo by Chen Chao/China News Service via Getty Images)
“The threat from coronavirus is temporary whereas the threat from heat waves, floods and extreme storms resulting in the loss of human life will remain with us for years”- UN Secretary General
The changes that the pandemic has produced, are temporary. With countries focusing on bringing their GDP growth to normal growth levels or in some cases higher, the production and manufacturing will bring the conditions of Earth back to what we are used to. It is important to remember that this global pandemic is also the starting point for other global crises, the ones that are slower but have drastic consequences, the ones which remains in the backdrop of our “modern world”. Serious steps need to be taken to ensure that human beings do not face those crises too… as we have all learnt by now that it's not a pleasant experience when we lose control over the discourse of our lives!!
Article by Abirami Subramanian