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COVID-19 and the Environment: Friends or Foes?

COVID-19 and the Environment: Friends or Foes?

One of the first “good” news we received during the early phases of lock down back in April, was the visibility of the entire Dhauladhar range from rooftops in Jalandhar due to the lowering of air pollution as the country was brought to an almost stand-still. A lot of us rejoiced at this, but did we truly need a pandemic to teach us how to take care of our one true home?

The restrictions on travel globally with the ban of international flights and lock down have impacted the environment positively, bringing down the daily global CO2 emissions down by almost 17% in April itself and a projected 3-13% by the end of the year if restrictions remain worldwide. Though the former information might still blow our minds, it was rather temporary. In fact, according to Corinne Le Quéré, professor of climate change at the University of East Anglia, England, carbon output could surge past pre-pandemic levels as soon as we ‘get back to normal’, putting the risk level higher.

The popular belief is that the COVID-19 virus spread from bats in the wet markets of Wuhan, but there were speculations about this virus being artificially made to be used as a bioweapon. Dr. Richard Kock of the Royal Veterinary College in London was investigating the goat plague in Mongolia in 2017 and said that the goat plague if tweaked by just two amino acids, would be infectious to humans. The same can be possible with the COVID-19 virus transferring over from bats to humans. However, this isn’t even the deadliest of all, since there is an infinite number of viruses and bacteria that affect many animals, and with a small change can be deadly to humans. It’s close to impossible to create vaccines to such potential diseases without having studied their genome.

The crossing over of zoonotic diseases into humans is not a rare incident, since wildlife trade and transportation of ‘exotic’ animals into zoos around the world increases the chances of virus/bacteria mutation in those animals. Since we are the ones transporting animals for whatever reason, we are essentially leading ourselves toward extinction, one small step at a time. Not only are we threatening our future generations with these potentially fatal diseases, but we are also taking away the existing population of wildlife species by misusing the natural habitats of animals to satisfy our greed.

Most of us have heard of the term ‘carbon footprint’– the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere as a result of human activity. Water footprint is a similar term, but in terms of water. It is the measure of humanity’s appropriation of fresh water in volumes of water consumed and/or polluted. This doesn’t just mean the amount of water we consume in our daily life for cooking, drinking, washing, etc. It includes the amount of water that goes into our food, clothing, appliances, even the banknotes we use to buy all of these!

One of the main sources of energy for humans is food. Around 15% of the world’s population is vegetarian and the other 85% consume at least one type of meat. This isn’t to say that going vegetarian or vegan is the best option — if the animals of prey are left without any predators, they’ll turn out just like us humans. Their populations could skyrocket just like that of the human race, or at least partially since their natural habitat is being destroyed by us and that is an essential factor in population growth of a species.

I did not know about this until recently, but I had heard that the amount of water that goes into the production of one kilogram of beef is approximately 15000 liters of water (1800 gallons per pound) and thought it was an over-exaggeration. It isn’t, and the rate at which we are using up freshwater, we might run out of it way before 2050, as predicted by the UN Population Fund in 2001.

To quote Lester R. Brown, a famous environmentalist, “We have not inherited this earth from our forefathers; we have borrowed it from our children.” We didn’t need a pandemic to reflect on our past behaviors, but it has come to that. I hope that we as a species learn to evolve from this experience and implement (small) positive changes in ourselves so that our future generations get a chance to call our planet earth as their ‘home’.

Written by Anupama Rao