We are in an unprecedented situation. A virus has forced us to stop living our usual way. Pro-active administrations have gone into complete lock down, others have flirted with danger by trying alternative ways of dealing with the situation. Governments around the world, including the Indian government have announced protective measures like quarantine, shelter in place, social distancing and curfew.
For corporates this has meant operating remotely, citizens have been forced to stay indoors, universities and schools have been closed, and airlines have had to shut operations. Only essential services like grocery stores, chemist shops, hospitals, general provision stores, etc. have been exempted from this shutdown.
The poor and vulnerable have been the worst hit and this, if not managed well, could lead to a social crisis. The novel coronavirus (SARS nCoV2) has caused massive disruption and has created a novel situation indeed.
It has been fascinating to observe how nature has responded during this lockdown. The air is cleaner, the ozone layer is healing itself, there is clean water in our rivers, birds are chirping, and wild animals are being seen at unusual places, seemingly ‘reclaiming their space’.
As we struggle to deal with this unprecedented situation, there has been a significant reduction in overall emissions. There are many reports saying that the weather has been different for this time of the year, Delhi appears to be cooler than normal while Bengaluru is warmer. Scientists are reporting that the ozone hole identified by them above the Arctic Circle in March of this year has closed already.
Photos of a cleaner and less polluted Yamuna have been doing the rounds, revealing that water can flow if we don’t release our pollutants into the river! Perhaps the most startling pictures have been those of peacocks, deer, nilgai, geckos and porpoises in surroundings where they are not usually seen.
In the short span of a month it has been made abundantly clear to us that we are living beyond the natural boundaries of the planet. The debate on whether climate change is a result of human actions or not should end now. Climate-deniers should sit up and take notice. The planet has shown that it can regenerate in no time if we do not mess with it. Sadly, it has taken a pandemic to remind us of our vulnerability and make us aware of our culpability.
In 2019 the Earth Overshoot Day was on July 29th. It is a day to officially mark the point in the year at which we have exhausted the natural resources the Earth can generate in one year. This day has been coming earlier every year for many years now; however, thanks to the lockdown conditions, this year could be an exception. We are living on borrowed time and playing a dangerous game whose steam is destined to run out.
Sooner or later, vaccines and cures will be found for the SARS nCoV2 virus and that is good news. We will then return to our “normal” ways of working. And that is not good news. For we will, once again, live beyond the boundaries of nature and tempt her to react in ways that are harmful for us. The forced lockdown has taught us a lesson in resilience and it will be a tragedy if we do not learn from it.
It will be marvellous if the experience of conditions during the lockdown accelerates the pursuit of green solutions, hardens the resolve to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement and triggers actions to achieve the sustainable development goals. In case it does not, it will be a thorough waste of a splendid crisis. The call for an awakening is both loud and clear.