Exuberance of Climate Enthusiast In COVID-19 Crisis is Premature

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The COVID-19 crisis and the lockdown that it has enforced is turning out to be a challenge like no other that humanity has confronted since the World War II. Despite scientists predicting the unfolding of such a pandemic and science fiction from Hollywood dishing pandemic inflicted dooms’ day stories for a while now, we humans are still coming to terms with the full scale of the crisis. It has wrecked lives, destroyed the economy, pushed the vulnerable section of the society to the brink of desperation and cornered the few fortunate into isolation to reflect in solitude or watch Netflix.

While all this was happening, the nature’s silent reclamation of the planet “pleasantly” unfolded in the form of chirping birds, near perfect blue skies, pristine air, translucent rivers bustling marine life and mountain ranges coming out of hibernation and making themselves visible as long lost neighbours of our cities. But this reclamation was barely a surprise given the fact that the cities are now ghost towns, skies are sans aeroplanes and the sewage pipes from the factories are now dry.

The irony is that humanity had to wait for a crisis of such a magnitude to unfold to experience the visuals of a mountain range from far and beyond, breathe clean air and taste clean water – all that is a free gift of nature available to us at our beck and call; at least the nature designed it that way.

This brings us to the question of whether the nature’s reclamation of the planet in the times of this crisis is to be considered pleasant at all or not. Nature lovers are surely not getting tired singing in praise this silent win of nature or are they refusing to erase the glee on their faces for this assert of nature and showing man his place as an insignificant life-form.

But don’t let their songs and glee fool you for they know in their heart of hearts that this is merely a transient phase reflective of Humanity’s unstable state. Humanity’s current status under lockdown is not its natural form. Humanity, over centuries has transformed itself to seek adventure, to be on the move and pursue growth. Humanity will cry, struggle, fight and organize to restore the status quo of growth. For we know that the unstable state of lockdown is contrarian to our identity on this planet and is therefore unpalatable for us. Don’t let the clean air and blue skies fool you into believing that the nature has indeed won this battle and that the COVID19 crisis is indeed the disruptive event that will change the discourse on climate & environment for the good. Far from it, with every single day going forward as the COVID19 virus abates in potency and spread, economies world over will race to kick-start cars’ engines, crank up the factories and propel their aircrafts.

The urgency to make up for lost time on economy and jobs will de-prioritize matters on climate change for happier times over economic engines that need to fire up all guns blazing. In the matter of months if not weeks visuals from our windows will go back to the haze and dare of humanity’s march over nature, mountain ranges will recede into hibernation and the translucent river water will turn into sludge.
If we do need to take solace into anything from this brief period of nature’s assertion let it be this – the crisis created a new reference point and a rich source of data & insights that should improve the quality of climate and environment research and debate.

The crisis presented before us a live prototype of a partially healed planet, when the carbon emissions are drastically reduced. No extent of hypothesis or modelling in a laboratory could have re-created such a prototype picture of the planet.

It was only within the matter since social distancing and suspension of human activities came into force that the so called “pleasant” outcome started to unfold in front of us. This crisis therefore demonstrated the rapid quality of the healing powers of the planet. It proved to us that these healing powers of the planet are very much intact and that they are merely dormant due to the heightened human activities during “normal” times.

Such phenomenal data and insights can be used to further enrich the ongoing research to pin point cause and effect with accuracy and play a crucial role in policy design on environment and climate change. For instance, the Air Quality Index (AQI) of Delhi during the lockdown period improved significantly and receded from the normal of three-digit figure to a double-digit number on all days during the lockdown. But the question is that Delhi’s still AQI stayed beyond the reach of the green zone on many days. In other words, if Automobiles, Factories and Construction- know culprits for air pollution are stopped in the city and why doesn’t the city’s air quality reach the green zone. We then begin to take stock of the effects of activities like emissions from waste landfills in the city as the new culprits for air quality and who in the “normal” times always managed to stay under the radar.

Like it or not, the stable state of humanity and a healed Planet are at cross purposes and will remain so for a foreseeable future.

The exuberance that the crisis will unfold a new positive normal in the on-going debate of climate change is pre-mature. On the contrary, we need to stand guard against the instinct that we should not slide back from the previous normal in our urgency to restore the stable state of humanity, while enjoying the sight of chirping birds till they last.

Ankur Bisen is the Author of WASTED, published by PanMacmillan India