COVID-19: A precursor to a greater pandemic
April 13, 2020, 1:08 pm
By Mohammad Khalid Farooq
If nothing else, the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) has shown how the world is woefully unprepared in tackling issues on a global scale. Despite the global interconnectivity, technology, and the mass advancements in knowledge, a single genome strain has brought the world to a sudden halt. This has given us time to introspect as to how we live our daily lives. Social distancing, hygiene practices and cutting out unnecessary movements from our lives have reacquainted us with a thing most of us had forgotten; clear breathable air.
As the world comes to a standstill in its fight against COVID-19, we have seen stories coming from around the world of clearer skies, cleaner waters, and reduction of harmful emissions in the air. With factories closed and cars parked in garages, China’s capital Beijing, known for its lung choking air has found a much-needed relief. Massive drops in atmospheric NO2 level have been picked up from satellite imagery showing how restricted mobility and closed industries have contributed to the regional reduction.
The same trends can be seen in Europe’s COVID-19 epidemic centers; Italy and France. Courtesy satellite images from the European Space Agency, the NO2 levels in the air have drastically reduced during the same time period last year, with Italy and France enforcing strict lockdown protocols to contain the pandemic, restricting movement and travel. The same trends can be seen in Europes COVID-19 epidemic centres; Italy and France. Courtesy satellite images from the European Space Agency, the NO2 levels in the air have drastically reduced during the same time period last year, with Italy and France enforcing strict lockdown protocols to contain the pandemic, restricting movement and travel.
So how good is this brief reduction in emissions?
The decline in pollution and carbon emissions is indeed a blessing for the planet and its inhabitants. As air pollution causes around a million deaths annually, cleaner air brings relief to those suffering from COVID-19, making it easier for them to breathe and recover. However, the case can be made that the damage from past emissions and air pollution may already be done to those in the cities. Many experts are cautious into seeing this as a silver lining because they believe the world post-COVID-19 will continue business as usual. However, we cannot live in a world thinking only about the past, and not the future, for whatever our mistakes, the world must take action to ensure future generations don’t suffer the same way.
Had the authorities listened to the warnings and advice of Dr Li Wenliang,
COVID-19 could have been contained at a much earlier stage. It is imperative we learn to listen and take actions on the warnings of experts now rather than later to prevent future disasters.
As COVID-19 requires a drastic response, so does climate change. If countries had heeded the warnings of experts, the spread of COVID-19 could have been controlled. Comparatively what we’ve learned so far about COVID-19 is that the outbreak is still something controllable, manageable, and treatable, even after being declared a pandemic. What might not be controllable, manageable and treatable is when the global temperatures rise above 2 degrees celsius, taking Global Warming beyond the point of no return, causing irreplaceable damage to the worlds environment, loss of habitat, loss of sustenance and deaths.
Learning from COVID-19 should be a precursor of listening more to the advice, suggestions and proposals made by environmental experts, because unlike COVID-19, climate change won’t spread from a person, or a city, or a country to others, it will affect the whole world, at the same time, equally.
With majority of the world under lockdown, looking for immediate and long-term solutions, it maybe the ideal time for governments to enact laws and introduce polices to build up on the recent relief to the environment brought by the COVID-19 lockdown at hand and make sure we as the inhabitants of this world are able to manage the pollution in a better way.
To ensure the mistake of the past are not repeated again, some examples of steps that can be taken are:
- Mass awareness – Since a big part of the world is active on social media, disseminate information on a wide scale in a move to educate people about the perils associated with environmental pollution. As mentioned earlier, it is a fact that air quality of some of the most polluted cities have indeed improved. This will make the ground fertile for to sow the seed mentioned in the next point.
- Encourage diminishing number of vehicles from the system that pollute extensively and introduce/enforce zero emission car policies –Similar to the Paris Agreement which was a signalling agreement, to indicate that the country is moving towards a sustainable and environmentally conscious future. Enforce laws that promote people to buy environmentally friendly and zero emission vehicles. They can also promote auto carmakers by incentivising production of zero emission vehicles by giving tax concessions and instituting heavy taxation on combustion engines. The model can be very easily replicated as the designs for one of the most successful low emission cars – Tesla, are available for everyone to replicate.
- Improve public transit network – Cities like New York City which have a dense public transit network can use the lockdown time to modernise their subway system by replacing old signals that cause delays and breakdowns, to make it more efficient and effective. This gives them the opportunity to attract and incentivise more commuters to use the subway instead of cars and other modes of transport. Other cities can also prioritise development plans of implementing a better transit network and begin construction with limited inconvenience for commuters during this time.
- Enforce sustainable consumerism policies for new products – Ensure development, production, distribution, sale, usage and disposal of products have minimum impact on the environment. Use a cradle to cradle approach, ensuring people reject fast consumerism products and reuse used products into the production cycle ensuring less damage to the environment and better consumer ethics in future purchasing.
Once again, all of these suggestions will only work by educating consumers and making it clear that the future of the planet depends on such small things that have a deep and long lasting effect. Looking at the response towards COVID-19, consumers are already changing their behaviours and purchasing habits which is a welcoming sight.
In short, the challenge of COVID-19 comes with an opportunity. This time, the opportunity arises in the form of appreciation and commitment. If we don’t appreciate the environment we have, it won’t be long before we are faced with another global pandemic of irreversible climate change and global warming, where no amount of face masks, ventilators and cutting-edge medicines will be able to save us.