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COVID 19 and its Environmental Impact Analysis: Striking Image of the Anthropocene Era

Updated: Jun 22

Shivangi Pandia, Content Writer, Nyayshastram

Introduction

This year the World Environment Day comes when the whole world is in the worst, unprecedented battle against COVID-19. Moving away from our anthropogenic approach to environmental conservation, we will be able to see that the earth seems to be healing, but is it really? We have, from the dawn of the industrial era, exploited the earth without giving it an opportunity to restore to its natural state. Sure, the COVID-19 is causing a severe threat to the public health security, but have we taken a glimpse at its impact on the environment? As a response to mitigating the same, the lockdown has been implemented in most of the worlds. The lockdown has caused the industries to shut down and has caused an economic slowdown in the countries. This article deliberates on both the positive and the negative impact of the crisis and the resultant human behaviour as regards the environment. Both the preservation and the restoration of the environment are experiencing a new normal as the pandemic continuous to disrupt lives.


The Positive Impacts

Researchers, even before the COVID-19 pandemic, have argued that the reduction in economic activity would help in emission reduction, thus decreasing global warming and allowing the environment to flourish slowly.[1] Due to the continuously increasing statistics of the patients, restrictive public health measures were adopted by governments all around the world. They included the stay-home orders that have helped in reducing pollution and greenhouse gases emission level to a considerable level. With substantially reduced numbers of vehicles on the road, the air quality has improved by leaps and bounds. The data collected by NASA’s satellites have shown that there has been a significant reduction in air pollution during the pandemic.[2]

The aviation industry has seen rescheduling of flights by 60-95% in the recent months[3] resulting in dropping of global air traffic by 60%.[4] As a result, the air quality levels in the major cities of the world have shown drastic improvement, mainly owing to the reduction in road traffic and factory emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrogen oxide (NOx), carbon monoxide (CO) and related particulate matter.[5] Together, these emission reductions have resulted in a dip in CO2 emission as compared to the pre-crisis level. Hence, generating hope by reducing greenhouse gases considerably over the long term goals to lessen forthcoming climate change. The crisis has caused an economic slowdown in the nations that have kept the emission levels relatively low.[6] The pandemic has also highlighted the issue of wildlife conservation awareness among people. Report by Christian Walzer reveals how wildlife trade, especially done for human consumption, has resulted in such a significant disease outbreak.[7]


The Negative Impacts 

Not all the environmental impact due to the pandemic have been positive. The negative impacts may seem insignificant now, but they will have significant future consequences. There have been volumes of unrecyclable wastes generated more than ever and since the industries are shut the waste by households is not undergoing recycling. The stark cuts in farming exports and fisheries have led to the generation of vast quantities of organic waste, and the preservation and maintenance of the natural ecosystems have temporarily ceased.[8] Ecological disturbance is also a consequence; human and nature interaction is necessary[9]. Natural ecosystems and the protected species are at risk[10] as they need continuous monitoring and maintenance, which, owing to the current lockdown, the officers are not able to provide. The zones are left at the vulnerable ends to the risk of illegal deforestation, poaching and wildlife hunting.[11] The local waste management done by the municipalities has been suspended in response to the lockdown orders to mitigate the virus propagation.[12] Industries have seized the opportunity to reverse the disposable bag bans, despite the alert by environmentalists that the plastics can still harbour the viruses.

Food merchants now have resumed usage of plastic packets for waste disposal. In addition to this, the adoption of stay-home policy has changed the consumer preference to an increased preference for takeaway food delivery options with single-use packets. This again sounds like a viable option to mitigate virus propagation, but the plastic generation it is creating cannot be disregarded. Globally, the borders have been closed, and there has been the emergence of import restrictions in export markets, leading to an increase in bulks of un-exportable agriculture and commodities related to fish. Import and export not only help in such cases but also provide for resources management.[13] The restriction in trade has led to an imbalance among the export-oriented producers as they produce far more than what can be consumed. Again this leads to organic waste that will, on decomposition, lead to emission of greenhouse gases like, methane (CH4). Greenhouse gases are expected to rise severely during the crisis and in the coming future.

Although we have seen the reduction in industrial emission and cleaning of air, these are all temporary as when the crisis comes to an end, and the economic activities will resume.


The Legal Dilemma

The global health crisis sheds light on the weakness of the International Environmental regime and our country’s legislation to deal with the ongoing crisis. When we analyze the steps taken by the governments all around the world to mitigate the pandemic through the climatic lens, it brings us to the analysis that both the climate change and the global health crisis are collective action-problems and the solution needs heavy reliance on scientific knowledge. Then why is there a difference in policy adoption and implementation in issues of climate change vis-a-vis the current pandemic? The anthropological approach has made humans see their benefit in every measure and hence the reluctance when it comes to taking action for climate change policies. The warnings issued by the World Health Organization about pandemic are oddly analogous to those issued during the climate change measures.[14] However, the actions taken by the respective governments to mitigate the spread have been exponentially quicker and more radical as compared to those taken to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions.

We have always had this notion of putting economic development before the environment, and it was believed that mitigating climate change would be impossible. The governments have always discussed how the funds are not sufficient to finance the energy transition or adopt the green measures in industries. The current crisis altogether shows a different approach. It has also shown that when the threat becomes apparent, all the measures become possible and could be implemented at a large scale.


Conclusion

The current pandemic strikes at the realization of our Anthropocene era, wherein all we could see was how we could exploit nature for the fulfillment of our own needs regardless of the long term harm being caused.

The one thing that we as humans have learned is that we need to become proactive fighters in the cause of protecting nature so that the planet, the people, flora and fauna have a healthy and harmonious existence. The reports showing far-reaching improvement in air quality amidst the lockdown and with the reports talking about wild animals freely wandering into urban spaces illustrates the extent to which human beings have disrupted nature. Our mother earth is finally breathing. The pandemic has made the world re-examine the interaction and interconnection between man and nature. We must respect the fact that we share this earth with animals, plants, other living organisms. Years of exploitation has left it vulnerable, yet ours is one world. It is time we come together to save nature not just for our growth but for the survival of other species too.

[1] Helen Kopnina, Haydn Washington, Bron Taylor & John J. Piccolo, Anthropocentrism: More than just a Misunderstood Problem, Journal of Agriculture and Environmental Ethics 109, 127 (2018). [2] About OMI, AURA, available at https://aura.gsfc.nasa.gov/omi.html, last seen on 4 June 2020. [3] Marisa Garcia, Lufthansa Issues Stark Warning as it cuts Flying, Forbes (03/19/2020), available at https://www.forbes.com/sites/marisagarcia/2020/03/19/lufthansa-issues-stark-warning-on-coronavirus-despite-favorable-footing/#563f52a60466, last seen on 04/06/2020. [4] Effects of Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) on Civil Aviation: Economic Impact Analysis, ICAO, available at https://www.icao.int/sustainability/Documents/COVID-19/ICAO_Coronavirus_Econ_Impact.pdf, last seen on 04/06/2020. [5]Air pollution goes down as Europe takes hard measures to combat coronavirus, EEA, available at https://www.eea.europa.eu/highlights/air-pollution-goes-down-as, last seen on 06/04/2020. [6] Corinne Le Quere, Robert B. Jackson, Matthew W. Jones, Adam J. P.Smith, Sam Abernethy, Robbie M. Andrew, Anthony J. De-Gol, David R. Willis, Yuli Shan, Josep G. Canadell, Pierre Friedlingstein, Felix Creutzig & Glen P. Peters, Temporary reduction in daily global CO2 emissions during the COVID-19 forced confinement, Nature (2020), available at https://www.nature.com/articles/s41558-020-0797-x, last seen on 06/04/2020. [7] Steve Mirsky, COVID-19: The Wildlife Trade and Human Disease, Scientific American (2020), available at https://www.scientificamerican.com/podcast/episode/covid-19-the-wildlife-trade-and-human-disease/, last seen on 06/04/2020. [8] Robert Hamwey, Environmental Impacts of coronavirus crisis, challenges ahead, UNCTD (2020), available at https://unctad.org/en/pages/newsdetails.aspx?OriginalVersionID=2333, last seen on 06/04/2020. [9] Robert T. Paine, Ecological disturbance, Britannica (2019), available at https://www.britannica.com/science/ecological-disturbance, last seen on 06/04/2020. [10] Matt Simon, The Coronavirus lockdown is a threat to many animals, not a blessing, National Observer (2020), available at https://www.nationalobserver.com/2020/04/03/news/coronavirus-lockdown-threat-many-animals-not-blessing, last seen on 06/04/2020. [11] Dian Septiari, Illegal fishing still rife in North Natuna Sea: Ministry, The Jakarta Post (2020), available at https://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2020/04/09/illegal-fishing-still-rife-in-north-natuna-sea-ministry.html, last seen on 06/04/2020. [12] Brian Eckhouse, This won’t be U.S. Solar’s best year ever – But it’ll be close, Bloomberg Green (2020), available at https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-06-02/u-s-solar-set-for-its-third-best-year-ever-despite-coronavirus, last seen on 06/04/2020. [13] Maximo Torero Cullen, Coronavirus Food Supply Chain under strain: What to do?, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (2020), available at http://www.fao.org/3/ca8308en/ca8308en.pdf, last seen on 06/04/2020. [14] WHO Director-General’s opening remarks at the media briefing on COVID-19, WHO (2020), available at https://www.who.int/dg/speeches/detail/who-director-general-s-opening-remarks-at-the-media-briefing-on-covid-19---11-march-2020, last seen on 06/04/2020.

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