As the world continues to confront and combat Sars-Cov-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, today we mark 50 years of Earth Day as we see the effects COVID-19 has had on Earth’s environmental crisis.

On 22 April, 1970, around 20 million Americans took to the streets to demonstrate against the impacts of 150 years of industrial development which had left a growing legacy of serious human health impacts

Since then, the day has become synonymous with political and civic organisations protesting environmental ignorance and demanding creation of a sustainable world for the future generations. On Earth Day 2016, the historic Paris Agreement on Climate Change was signed into force. 

Exactly half a century later, when countries all across the globe are witnessing an exponential rise in the number of coronavirus cases (more than 2.5 million people have already been infected with the new coronavirus globally), Earth Day is a gentle reminder that our lives are intimately connected with the nature. 

This link can be seen in the way how climate change, man-made changes to nature as well as crimes that disrupt biodiversity, such as deforestation, land-use change, intensified agriculture and livestock production or the growing illegal wildlife trade, can increase contact and the transmission of infectious diseases from animals to humans (zoonotic diseases) like COVID-19

As the nations continue to extend the lockdown restrictions and citizens are forced to stay in their homes, it is an ideal time for each one of us to take a pause and reflect upon our relationship with ‘Mother Earth’. 

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If the text seems like hard math, the diagram should do!

Undoubtedly, the world we used to know and inhibit has completely changed in a matter of weeks, or maybe months. The arrival and the rapid spread of Covid-19, a global health pandemic, has led to hundreds and thousands of people losing their invaluable lives and has left the others in worrying about their jobs, mental health and future. 

As production and consumption activities come to a halt, business houses and corporates are looking at the uncertain times ahead with fear and anxiety. Similarly, the zoo animals are getting sick and going wild at some places. Natural ecosystems are facing the risk of illegal deforestation, illegal harvesting, encroachment and wildlife hunting.

Volumes of non-recyclable waste have risen; severe cuts in agricultural and fishery export levels have led to the generation of large quantities of organic waste; maintenance and monitoring of natural ecosystems have been temporarily halted; and tourism activity to natural areas has ceased.

And in the meanwhile, Nature is healing. A steep fall in factory and road as well as air traffic emissions of particulate matter, carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides and ozone has improved the air quality significantly. Today, we are able to see the blue skies, breathe the fresh air and feel the clean water in the rivers and canals. 

Along with the Covid-19 which has already claimed the lives of more than 177,190 people worldwide (these being just the official figures), the other major challenge that humanity is staring at is Climate Change. With rising sea levels, changing weather patterns and fast disrupting ecosystems, climate change has become a real and an undeniable threat, which is affecting everyone in every country on every continent.

According to an article by National Geography, “In China, the drops in pollution resulting from coronavirus shutdowns likely saved between 53,000 and 77,000 lives—many times more than the direct toll of the virus—according to calculations done by Marshall Burke, an Earth system scientist at Stanford University.

That might sound surprising, but it shouldn’t be, he said, given that air pollution causes more than 1.2 millionannual deaths in China. Indeed, a 2016 study found that China’s aggressive measures to clean the air in and around Beijing for the 2008 Olympics had led to a temporary 8 percent drop in the overall death rate.”

Considering that human actions can cause irreversible damage to the ‘Blue Planet’, the theme for the Earth Day 2020 is climate action. It is a call for the citizens of the world to rise up and fight for a better, healthier and cleaner tomorrow. 

Arthur Wyns, Climate Change Researcher, World Health Organisation, believes that the coronavirus pandemic may lead to a deeper understanding of the ties that bind us on a global scale. According to him, all require a global-to-local response and long-term thinking which is guided by science and the need to protect the most vulnerable among us. 

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PHOTOGRAPH BY FRANCOIS HENRY, REA/REDUX
Source: NatGeo
Caption: Smoke from the district heating plant rises above clouds near a 360-foot observation tower in Grenoble, France.

It’s not like carbon emissions won’t rise again or the rivers won’t pile up with dirt, what’s more important to learn from the current situation is the power of our collective impact. People are maintaining physical distance from each other to slow down the spread of a lethal virus.

At the same time, each one of us is helping in any way possible – even in staying at homes. As illness sweeps the globe, we now know that every individual has the ability to make drastic changes. In totality, the world and its residents have never been this closer. 

Let’s harness this spirit of togetherness and work towards creating a society which will be more sustainable and more compassionate and more mindful of its deeds. As rightly pointed out by Margaret Bullitt-Jonas and Leah D. Schade,”When COVID-19 is finally behind us, instead of returning to normal life, we must hold on to these lessons in the fight against climate change.”

Perhaps our Mother Earth was always calling out for help, be it the Australian bushfires, burning of Amazon rainforests, worst locust invasion in Kenya or the frequent floods and droughts. In these times of utmost tranquillity, let’s pay attention to what Nature is trying to convey. 

Earth is what we all have in common. And in the words of Ernest Hemingway- “The Earth is a fine place and worth fighting for.” If you read all the way down…..

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Did you know, saving the Earth’s Environment can be as easy as Signing Petitions?

Happy Earth Day!