Published: 05th June 2021
World Environment Day: How has the pandemic actually impacted the world around us?
A recent study provides ample evidence that environmental pollution can be addressed through proper policies implemented on a large scale
When something as disastrous as a global pandemic hits, it's not easy to find a bright side. But with the lockdown and strict travel restrictions that were imposed in many parts of the world, there have been quite a few positive changes in the environment. For instance, a recent study conducted by the University of Southampton and the Central University of Jharkhand found that air quality in India had significantly improved during the first phase of lockdown, mid last year.
This study provides ample evidence that environmental pollution can be addressed through proper policies implemented on a large scale. The study focused on major urban areas like Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai, Mumbai, Bengaluru and Hyderabad and found that the major decrease in the road and air transport alone contributed greatly to bringing down the land surface temperature. Other studies have shown how restrictions on fishing activities have significantly improved marine life.
However, environment activists like Ramnath Chandrasekhar believe the impact has to be taken on a case-by-case scenario. He says, "There is much evidence supporting both sides - the environment becoming better due to lockdown, and the environment becoming worse. For instance, carbon emissions were cut down in places like China due to reduced movement. That is only momentary relief. At the same time, locally there are instances of poaching increasing. Bushmeat consumption increases due to lockdown too. It is unfortunate because the current scenario is pushing communities to poverty, and they have to adopt extreme methods like poaching and bushmeat consumption. This, in turn, raises our exposure to new zoonotic diseases, especially viruses."
Speaking about how it has given a boost to environment-related research, he says, "Environmental clearances are being increased. Researchers are getting unprecedented insight into the natural world, a scenario that was otherwise not possible. For instance, the opportunity to study the sound of the ocean during the movement of ships, and when there is a reduced movement. Longer impact of such research may lead to increased protection of forests and oceans, and restoration of dilapidated spaces."
Wildlife and conservation filmmaker Shekar Dattatri also holds the same opinion. He says, "Lockdowns have definitely had a positive, but temporary, impact on the environment in some ways. The air has become cleaner and there's less noise pollution. But the euphoria that has sometimes been expressed about wild animals expanding their territories and flourishing as a result of the lockdowns is wishful thinking. At best, birds and animals have received a brief reprieve from our constant onslaught on nature. On the flip side, there have been many reports that poaching has increased in and around our forests as a result of the reduced vigilance caused by lockdowns."
And the optimism cannot win over sheer practicality. "What we can be sure of, however, is that once the pandemic is over, it will be business as usual. One of the disappointing traits of the human species is that we rarely course correct or learn lessons from our collective experience. How much better things would be if it were otherwise," adds Dattatri, who is an award-winning wildlife and conservation filmmaker.
Ramnath, who is also an environment educator also mentioned how his work has been affected. He says, "A lot of our work involves going to the field, be it in forests or in schools. Those have been reduced drastically. Now, we have a program where children explore ecosystems in their neighborhood and we will use it to create children’s books, for children – during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic." He adds, "During all these scenarios, we have to understand that nature's health reflects on people's health, and environmental changes have direct consequences to planetary health, which includes people's physical health and mental well-being. They are all connected."