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Losing Sight Of The Environment In The Fallout From Covid-19

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Due to the Coronavirus pandemic, cities all over the world imposed strict lockdowns that contributed to improving the quality of air in the first place. Because of the low emission of carbon dioxide into the air, the environment got a cleanup boost. Though a nationwide lockdown has produced chaos and suffering, yet it resulted in fresh and clean air that cities have not seen in decades. It can be taken as the silver lining of the lockdown that toxic megacities such as Karachi, Lahore, Delhi, Kolkata, Bangkok and São Paulo where varying Corona-restrictions have been imposed, observed unprecedented decline in pollution. Now the blue sky is full of stars and the air is healthy, free from toxins. However, majority papulation strictly confined to homes and do not have the opportunity to enjoy this new healthy environment.

This changed lifestyle is the result of the immediate fear of the people that Coronavirus can kill them or their dear ones. However, this same level concern is not associated with tragedies triggered by climate changes and global warming. If we carefully calculate, we find more fatalities due to pollution compared to Covid-19. While the mortality rate of the Coronavirus-infected has not exceeded 3.4% globally, the mortality rate from ambient pollution remained 7.6% of total global deaths in 2016.

The sudden drop in pollution indicates that socio-economic activities across the globe are highly correlated with environmental degradation. The current modes of production and consumption are high pollution-intensive. Fossil fuels are the basic input to the modern lifestyle. The unprecedented worldwide lockdown on travel, industry and on other work has cut the use of billions of barrel oil, trillion cubic metrics gas and millions of tonnes of coal. Climate experts expect the global carbon emission from fossil fuel to drop to its lowest level in the decade. However, this decline is at the cost of the loss of the jobs of millions across the globe. It is not the result of well-devised environmental policies of governments.

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Some serious commentators on economic development suggest a close association between the pandemic and the environment. Thomas Lovejoy who is considered the godfather of the term ‘biodiversity’ warned that “This pandemic is the consequence of our persistent and excessive intrusion in nature and the vast illegal wildlife trade, and, the wildlife markets, the wet markets, of south Asia and bushmeat markets of Africa”. The Guardian on the 20th of April 2020 cited many recent research studies that confirm the close connection between pollution and Coronavirus deaths in the USA and Western Europe. Most of the deaths occurred in the most polluted regions where air quality has greatly deteriorated. According to research, air pollution may be one of the important factors behind deaths in this pandemic. Though widespread lockdowns have led to reducing air pollution through reduced socio-economic activities, long-run exposure to the toxic environment before the pandemic may be the actual problem.

Environmentalists are afraid that when cars and industries kick back into action post-Corona, the environmental situation will be worsened again. The fiscal stimulus provided by different governments will lead to pollution levels rebounding above the Corona-crisis levels as it happened after the 2008 financial crisis. There is a need to include measures for the climate in new economic stimulus packages. Otherwise, this improvement in the environment will be easily wiped out as economies rebound after this crisis is over.

The Coronavirus will settle once the vaccine is out but the environment will suffer a sharp degradation because of the restoration of industries and automobiles. Only serious and sincere deliberation can get us past this imminent risk.

The pandemic made it clear that environmental degradation and COVID-19 have a root cause in the current growth models all over the world. These models bring prosperity at the cost of natural resources and biodiversity. Ironically, the world does not have any other model to follow. The worldwide lockdowns have led us to slow down and provided economic gurus with opportunities to reflect on post-virus opportunities to build a more just, pro-environment and inclusive world.

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Naya Daur