Lockdown Effect: Nature Flourishes as Humans Take a Break

Covid-19 and Lockdown are probably the two most dreaded words of the century. As they say, mother nature has her own ways to rectify her problems. We, humans, caused havoc on the environment and a tiny virus is enough to teach us a lesson. But have we learned a lesson or nature have to devise new weapons every time she feels threatened by human torture?

Coronavirus and the resultant Covid-19 disease halted human life as we know it. The lockdown imprisoned us at home and nature rejuvenated, animals could breathe again freely. However, there are some negative impacts too in terms of increased bio-medical waste, non-biodegradable plastics, reduced recycling, etc., and these combined with the dwindling positive environmental changes when we return to the old practices would aggravate the issue multifold. Now is the time we change our ways to save ourselves.

Positive Environmental Impacts:

The Covid-19 pandemic had terrible adverse effects on our life from all aspects including physical & mental health, economy, and education. However, most of us would agree that while staying at home during lockdown we experienced a calm environment, fresh air, clearer water, and a cooler summer. This is because of the absence of regular human activities as a result of lockdown.

Reduced air pollution: The most visible environmental impact of the Covid-19 induced lockdown is the reduced air pollution level. During the lockdown, most of the economic & industrial activities and human movements came to a standstill. As a result, there was a dramatic reduction in the emission of greenhouse gases and particulate matter. Studies showed particulate matters (PM10) to reduce to 1/3rd to 1/4th compared to pre-lockdown times in India alone. Within a very short span of time, we could see a significant replenishment of the ozone layer. A visibly cooler Indian summer after quite a few years made it clear to us how severely our everyday activities were damaging our environment. Worldwide we achieved & crossed the yearly target of reducing greenhouse gases (GHG) with a reduction of 9% within just the first half of 2020. Now, we must continue this habit for the rest of the decade to see any significant change in the climate change phenomenon.

The reduced air pollution had a direct impact on melting snow because of the reduced soot & pollutants on the snow cover keeping it shinier, reflecting light, and melting at a slower rate. This is an important phenomenon when it comes to saving the freshwater reserve of the planet.

Reduced water pollution: Availability of clearer water is another important impact of the Covid-19 induced lockdown. Due to the reduced industrial activities & closed tourism, there was a substantial improvement in water quality & quantity due to the lack of industrial & tourist-made pollutants as well as reduced water consumptions in factories & hotels.

The improved water quality not only meant a fresher water supply for us, humans, but it immensely contributed to replenishing the bio-diversity also. Due to the reduced human interference like water tourism & fishing activities, plants & animals could flourish in their natural habitat and some animals even returned from the verge of extinction as the endangered Olive Ridley Sea Turtles in Odisha, India.

Reduced noise pollution: Along with air & water pollution, noise pollution from industries, traffic & construction works also affects humans & animals adversely. In humans, it leads to several severe health issues while it can damage the ecological balance of wildlife. Lockdown restrictions on most of the noise-producing activities proved beneficial in controlling noise pollution by about 50% contributing tremendously in restoring environmental calm & ecological balance.

Negative Environmental Impacts:

Due to the pandemic-induced lockdown, nature made a speedy recovery from human-induced damages. However, all these positive environmental impacts are short-lived and will dwindle as soon as we return to our old ways. Moreover, there will be some additional hazards as a result of the Covid-19 disease & its treatments.

Increased bio-medical waste: Owing to the whopping number of Covid-19 patients & suspects quarantined at homes or hospitals, the amount of bio-medical waste also increased considerably. In absence of proper disposal measures, these not only would increase the spread of the disease but would also contribute to environmental pollution. Bio-medical wastes must be segregated in a non-chlorinated bag while disposing of them so that they do not emit carcinogenic chemicals while being treated & incinerated.

Indiscriminate use of sanitizers: With the advent of the pandemic there has been an indiscriminate use of cleaning & sanitizing agents. The chemicals present in these items are neither good for health nor the environment. When drained into water streams those can damage the water ecosystem considerably and too much aerosol sanitizers may contribute to air pollution.

Single-use plastic: Coronavirus being extremely contagious, medical practitioners and caregivers, as well as people involved with different service & delivery activities, are forced to use disposable protective gears including masks, gloves, bodysuits, head cover, etc. made of plastic materials. Several home delivery items & food are also being packed in single-use plastic materials to prevent reuse. All these are adding to the non-bio-degradable hazards to the environment.

Reduction in recycling activities: Lockdown led to the suspension of activities in many recycling plants making waste management even more difficult leading to increased landfilling & environmental pollutants.

Increased organic & inorganic waste: With the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic most of the human population is confined at home. This has led to the increase of organic & inorganic municipal waste to a considerable amount further adding to environmental pollution.

Sustainable Living Is The Need of The Day:

After the pandemic dies bio-medical waste will reduce with time. However, human activities will return with new vigour and if we continue with our old ways of functioning, pollution can reach a new height leading to an even bigger disaster. Rectifying our behaviour through a few innovations & modifications is the only way to avoid this. The pandemic and resultant lockdown came as a boon in disguise from environmental aspects. It gave us a chance to drastically improve our environment. Now, the onus is on us to keep it that way and improve further.

Shifting to green industrialization: Industrialization is compulsory to continue with human civilization as it is. However, to have environmental sustainability, industries must be energy efficient and use renewable energy as much as possible. Studies suggest that building related industries in a specific zone, where waste from one industry could be used as raw material for the other, would be beneficial. Recycling & reusing wastes at the industry level deserve more emphasis. A rotational shutdown of industries can also help in reducing emissions.

Management of tourism activities: Tourism is found to be one of the major sources of environmental damage. To control this, the promotion of eco-tourism practices can be beneficial. Cultural & bio-diversity conservation through rotational shut down of tourist spots are also suggested by studies. This will reduce the impact on nature & restore tourist spots.

Sustainable living at the personal level: Adapting sustainable ways of living in terms of energy conservation, water-saving, reuse & recycling, kitchen waste management & composting, proper segregation & disposal of dry, wet & bio-medical wastes as per guidelines, depending on locally available goods, use of energy-efficient public transport at the individual level can go a long way towards environmental sustainability.

We need to be proactive to inculcate a green living attitude in our children and the younger generation to raise a population more nature-friendly, who can take care of our planet in a much better way than we did.

Final thoughts: Failure is a part of human life and we failed mother nature in more ways than one. The deadly virus took a toll on human civilization but the resultant lockdown provided us with a new opportunity to learn from our mistakes and rebuild. So, let’s stand together against the virus as well as against all the agents causing trouble to planet earth, leading to a better & sustainable future for mother nature & all her children!

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