Environmental Impact and Threats Lingering in 2020

Since the inception of civilization, the human species have manipulated the environment to suit its own benefit. In order to satisfy the needs and demands of increasing population, industrialization and urbanization became inevitable, and the apparent significance proved to be injurious to the global environment. Man-made alterations to nature invariably led to a change in biodiversity and ecosystem, ozone layer depletion, global warming, water pollution, air pollution, and most visibly climate change. In the human pursuit to drive nature as per their own whims and desire, environmental pollution became an inevitable consequence and a pressing issue today.
However, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, cities and villages across the globe have come to a standstill with most countries under a partial to complete lockdown as a measure to contain the spread of the deadly virus. Mobility restrictions, supply chain disruptions, plummeting asset prices are only the tip of the iceberg with regards to economic consequences. Meanwhile, efforts to limit transmission of the SARS-CoV-2, through restrictions have had an exceptional environmental effect. Due to the non-functioning of industries, industrial waste emission has decreased to a large extent. Vehicles are hardly found on the roads resulting in almost zero emission of greenhouse gases and toxic tiny suspended particles to the environment. Due to the lesser demand for power in industries, the use of fossil fuels or conventional energy sources has been lowered considerably. Ecosystems are being greatly recovered. In many big cities, the inhabitants are experiencing a clear sky for the first time in their lives. The pollution level in tourist spots such as forests, sea beaches, hill areas, etc. is also shrinking largely. The ozone layer has been found to have revived to some extent. The pandemic has displayed its contrasting consequence on human civilization, in the sense that, on one hand, it has executed worldwide destruction, but created a very positive impact on the world environment on the other hand.
The UN Secretary-General in his call for solidarity during the crisis stated, “We must ensure that lessons are learned and that this crisis provides a watershed moment for health emergency preparedness and for investment in critical 21st-century public services and the effective delivery of global public goods.” He declared that the UN has a framework for action – the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and will endeavor to keep its promises for the people and planet alike. UN report warns that the current climate change pledges and legislations like the global Paris Agreement (2016) are insufficient and inadequate to limit global warming by the end of the century to two degrees Celsius. However, the United States was the first country to withdraw from the Paris Agreement citing the restrictions on the economy. This withdrawal and the cause behind it are the deathly reasons behind recurring flashes of climate change in the form of natural disasters.
A common person can contribute substantially because a mass of common people only makes an entire population. While building homes, individuals must stress on a LEED certification which is awarded to “green homes”. Tax rebates are awarded to property buyers of green buildings and commercial establishments for five years. Reduced usage of air conditioners, increased usage of public transport and bamboo products are important pointers. Utilizing bamboo products in daily-routine like brushes, combs, and sanitary pads don’t limit their advantage to climate but also give impetus to the growth of the industry in backward areas. Women must be advised to use menstrual cups in place of sanitary pads, as they are relatively economical and bring down wastes massively. The government has pushed for increasing the demand for jute in 1987; it should take similar steps to give buoyancy to bamboo and cloth industries.
It is estimated that the livestock industry produces a whopping sixty-four percent of ammonia which induces acid rain. The livestock industry also generates 65 percent of human-related nitrous oxide, which has 300 times the Global Warming Potential (GWP) of CO2. Estimates of the water required to produce a kilo of beef vary, from 13,000 liters to 100,000 liters. The aforementioned are some of the many horrifying statistics that must make an individual push for at least three days of no-meat per week. A shift in diet can lower greenhouse gas emissions much more quickly than shifts away from the fossil fuel burning technologies that emit carbon dioxide.
The current generation is fixated on fast-fashion. It has been estimated that there are 20 new garments manufactured per person each year and we are buying 60% more than we were in 2000. Each garment is worn less before being disposed of and this shorter lifespan means higher relative manufacturing emissions. Textile production is one of the most polluting industries, producing 1.2 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent per year, which is more emissions than international flights and maritime shipping. Consumption rates of textiles have to decline.
The present and future generations have to be vocal and must resist the mass felling of trees in biological hotspots. There was an unprecedented uproar recently when “Array” was taken down in Maharashtra and currently a similar protest is in force for Arunachal Pradesh. Citizens must be pro-active and must constantly voice their concerns. Only when voices are raised, the legislations are put in place to mirror such concerns. Path-breaking laws like “The Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution Act) 1981” and “Environment (Protection) Act, 1986” are a result of public and global pressure. The environment and economy complement each other’s protection and not blow each other out of proportion.
Lastly, it is pertinent to note that the pandemic showed a glimpse into a horrendous future and gave us a reminder of the intimate and delicate relationship between people and the planet. Any efforts to make our world safer are doomed to fail unless they address the critical interface between people and pathogens, and the existential threat of climate change; so on World Environment Day 2020, we should take a vow to make our Earth more habitable. This Day assumes unparalleled importance as it sets out an important environmental mission for a year, with a view to “celebrate bio-diversity” and replenish revive the eco-system.

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