“Learn to adjust yourself to the conditions you have to endure, but make a point of trying to alter or correct conditions so that they are most favourable to you.”
- William Frederick Book
India has been in a state of complete or partial lockdown since March 22nd 2020. In May, the government decided to lift some of the restrictions, allowing the economy to slowly start up again. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a tremendous impact on society, economy and environment, and its far-reaching consequences are something we as a society are still struggling to understand.
The nationwide lockdown has been eased out with relaxations, and people are beginning to venture out again. But yes, we need to consider how life has changed and should further change in the post-lockdown setting.
During the lockdown, the environment has had a chance to recover from the damage done by society. For example, In Odisha, the Olive Ridley sea turtles were able to nest in the Rushikulya beach and baby turtles were able to safely make their way back into the ocean. This was possible only because there was no human interference as a result of the lockdown. However, on the flip side, endangered species that are placed in sanctuaries and parks are left vulnerable, as caretakers are unable to work during the lockdown.
Due to the pandemic and the subsequent lockdown, a large portion of the population has been forced to remain indoors. As a result, the overall consumption of energy and resources has reduced. This has also led to a drop in pollution levels across the globe. Usually, the month May records the highest carbon emission levels, due to the decomposition of leaves. This year, the lowest levels of air pollutants have been recorded since the year 2008.
Around the country, the lockdown has had a positive impact on the environment. In cities like Bengaluru, Kolkata and Lucknow which usually observe high pollution levels, the average Air Quality Index (AQI) has stayed within two digits since the lockdown. Rivers like the Ganga and Yamuna, which usually experience extreme pollution, have also cleared up over the past few weeks. As per reports released by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), the river Ganga is now suitable for bathing and propagation of wildlife and fisheries.
However, once the lockdown is lifted, it is predicted that pollution is likely to return to pre-lockdown levels. Some environmental activists have suggested that governments should create bailout packages for manufacturers and transport companies as an incentive to maintain lower levels of emissions, post-lockdown.
While the lack of human activity has helped to restore nature in some areas, there have also been negative consequences to the lockdown. Since waste management institutions have been working at minimum capacity, waste collection, recycling and management have not been taking place at optimum levels. As per the Materials Recycling Association of India (MRAI), over 2.5 lakh shipping containers have been left lying about at various ports across the country, waiting to be cleared. The recycling industry has come to a standstill during the lockdown and many traders are facing the risk of bankruptcy. This creates a problem both for the environment as well as the economy.
Due to the shutdown of borders, the import-export industry has also taken a hit. Farmers are unable to export their products and do not have the resources to safely store the excess produce during this lockdown period. The disruption to the supply chain during the lockdown has led to products and resources going to waste. This, in turn, has led to further loss of income for domestic markets. In the past, an economic crisis of this kind was usually followed by increased poverty and over-exploitation of natural resources and labour.
Once the lockdown is lifted, the government will have to take special care to ensure that the negative impact on the environment can be mitigated sustainably. As a society, we must make the effort to adopt new lifestyles that not only keep us safe but also improve the state of the environment as well. Otherwise, the benefits experienced during the lockdown will be lost and the current environmental problems may get amplified.
As said by Darwin in his seminal book, Origin of Species, it is not the most intellectual of the species that survives; it is not the strongest that survives; but the species that survives is the one that is able best to adapt and adjust to the changing environment in which it finds itself.