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Can COVID-19 bring a behavioral transformation and help tackle climate change?

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Nature created humans to cohabit with millions of other species and share this beautiful planet that could well be a cynosure of all other extra-terrestrial bodies. However, since evolution and aided by a superior ability of thinking, reasoning, intelligence and competence, mankind embarked on a journey fueled by an unstoppable desire to stamp its superiority on everything else and marked by a never-ending greed and extreme selfishness completely disregarding the laws of nature. For hundreds of years now, humans have trodden the mean path of so-called development and advancement not giving two hoots about the balance of nature that is now under complete peril. 

The sudden emergence of a human-killer virus and its aftermath is not a rare occurrence. Viruses like the Nipah, West Nile, Ebola, SARS, MERS have all reminded us from time to time how vulnerable we are as a race. So, what makes the Coronavirus or COVID-19 as the popular name goes, different? It’s a virus that originated in an animal market in Wuhan, China in Dec’19 and has infected and killed humans across the globe decimating the invincible aura that it had falsely associated itself with. The virus, now declared a pandemic by WHO, has consistently proliferated and spread to as many as 206 countries with 12.03 lacs confirmed cases and 64,743 deaths across the globe sending a panic wave hitherto unseen with an incomparable geographic outreach. It has thrashed economies of the world’s richest and most developed countries causing irreparable losses and is gradually pushing the world into a recession it is unsure of recovery anytime soon. The USA leads the chart with the highest number of reported cases at 3,11,635 followed by Spain, Italy, Germany, France & China, all trillion-dollar economies. Italy leads the death toll figures with 15,362 cases so far. These numbers are rising rapidly as I write.

Clearer Venice Canals manifest positivity: Italy is one of the worst hit countries in the world by COVID-19. However, with no human intervention since March 10th, the canals of Venice now boast of crystal-clear water. With things like motorboats effectively grounded, sediment churning and other water pollutants have dropped dramatically. During these tough & uncertain times, such a phenomenon is sure to bring a smile on every Italian’s face.

Sea Turtles lay eggs on empty Odisha beach: With India going into a 21-day lockdown on March 25th, over 4.75 lacs endangered Olive Ridley Sea Turtles came ashore and laid nearly 60 million eggs on a desolate Odisha beach. This is something unthinkable in the normal course and will go a long way in preserving the ecological balance.

Telecommuting helps the planet & businesses stay afloat: With the world going into an ineludible lockdown, companies are now realizing more than ever that their businesses can stay afloat by allowing their employees to work from home. Without the need to commute to workplace daily, people have been able to drastically reduce carbon emissions and traffic congestion thereby contributing to a healthy environment. On top of that, employee productivity has soared, attendances have regularized, and the number of leaves have come down. Overall, the work-life balance has picked up considerably.

But any number of benefits derived from this calamity cannot actually be a justification for the crisis that has befallen humans with millions impacted and thousands of dead. Humans cannot remain indoors forever, industries have to be operational again, transportation needs to commence, businesses must bounce back. Lives of billions are dependent on them and it would be a fallacy to expect mankind to return to primitive ways in 21st century to preserve the balance. But this virus outbreak does provide an inflection point for us to rethink about behavioral transformation, personal consumption, travel habits etc.

To survive and flourish on this interconnected planet, we have to learn to subordinate the needs of the market to our own needs. It is tempting to say that humans are a virus on this planet. That where we recede, nature rebounds. But this would be the wrong climate lesson to take from the pandemic. Humans are part of nature and not detached from it. Any human activity that hurts the environment also hurts us. And humans must understand and realize that they share the planet, not own it.

Countries across the world have taken radical steps to protect and help each other during the crisis. The speed and extent of the response is a clear testimony that swift action could also be taken on climate change if the threat it poses was treated as urgently. Once the pandemic perishes, the real challenge for the world would be to create a functional economy that supports people without threatening life on earth. Covid-19 has taken a massive toll on human lives, economies, health services, jobs and mental health. But it has also shown the difference that communities can make when they look out for each other and collaborate and that’s one lesson that could be crucial in tackling climate change. Lockdowns and distancing may not save the world from warming. But this crisis surely has given us a chance to build a better future.

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