A Ray of Hope: Impact of COVID-19 on the Environment

While the world continues to face a grim situation, there was momentary respite amidst the fusillade of unfortunate stories depicting an unabating number of COVID-19 cases and deaths. Most governments worldwide have mandated strict lockdowns and curfews with the primary intention of curbing the spread of the virus. This essentially means shutting down most public places; from factories and small businesses to transport and tourism sectors. This has managed to bring even the most flourishing economies down on its knees. But amidst all this gloom, what was noticed consequently was a pleasant surprise; there were conspicuous changes in our immediate environment. The environment, and biodiversity were thriving; little did anybody expect the sight of clean blue skies and crystal-clear water to make an appearance into our lives again.

According to IQ Air’s “COVID-19 Air Quality Report”, there was a significant drop in air pollution levels (PM 2.5) due to lockdowns and related behavioral changes in 2020. Delhi, the most polluted city observed a 60% reduction in PM 2.5 particles respectively when compared to 2019. And closer to home, a rather recent development in 2021 is the decrease in Air Quality Index (AQI) values in Bangalore which depicts a dip in air pollution levels owing to restrictions of vehicle movement and halt in construction activities. Additionally, greenhouse gas emissions and aerosol levels have hit its lowest levels in 20 years. As a result of implementation of precautionary measures power plants, companies and public places were shut down- leading to a drop in global carbon emissions. But despite the reductions in pollutants and greenhouse gases, we seem to be overlooking the fact that medical wastes are simultaneously piling up at an exponential rate.

 Single-use surgical masks, syringes, PPE kits and gloves are inappropriately discarded which ultimately end up either in the ocean or are burnt to ashes which again brings us back to square one necessitating a grass-root approach rather than resorting to short-term remedies. Although there are numerous novel inventions and research each day which act as a guide towards eco-friendly consumption, they are often disregarded in want of a more convenient alternative. Perhaps the significance of environment-friendly alternatives will finally be appreciated. Off lately, as a result of closure of work-places, the drastic cuts in salary and alarming levels of unemployment have automatically led to the decrease in consumer demand for various categories of goods. People are relatively more conscious of the goods they purchase, and especially conscious of the resources that go wasted. It can be said that the pandemic has brought about a change in consumer behaviour and priorities. Hopefully, this pushes them in the direction of cost-effective and eco-friendly alternatives such as preferring reusable products over single-use products or preferring battery-run automobiles over those that run on fossil fuels, etc.

Yet it is indeed too soon to be celebrating. A submicroscopic organism invisible to the naked eye has achieved what most established governments cannot. It has single-handedly altered an impending crisis of a wide magnitude only over a span of a few weeks. But does this mean pollution and climate change is halted perpetually?
Even after considering all the beneficial impacts COVID-19 has indirectly had on the environment till date, the once-healthy atmosphere is receding as quickly as it came unto us. There was only momentary impact. It is hardly practical or sensible to expect a pandemic to rid us of our climate-change woes, instead it lies in our very hands to ensure a safe climate for future generations and set an example for them. These short-lived alterations in the climate should act as a wake-up call for not only policy makers but also us, common citizens, to implement green initiatives and genuinely advocate for usage of sustainable alternatives. Slow and impactful steps will always take precedence over instantaneous but temporary changes.

It would not be an understatement to speculate that global warming and climate change will continue to be humanity’s biggest challenge. United collaborative efforts are imperative to bring about a significant change, but until then such brief reprieves shed a bright ray of hope, and instill faith in humanity’s ability to avert a possibly inevitable climate crisis. These minute environmental changes are reasonable enough to prove that humanity does wield enough power to make a difference, but it just refuses to utilize it. The atmosphere may have been somber for quite some time now, but the short-lived experience of eerie calmness, cleaner environment and thriving biodiversity will serve as a reminder that the Earth will serve humanity’s interests only for so long as we continue to preserve hers.

Author – Monal Prasad

Y Maheswara Reddy, ‘Bengaluru’s pollution drops by 60%’ (Bangalore Mirror, 28 May 2021)
Eric Roston, Akshat Rathi, ‘Biggest fall in global emissions shows the limits of individual action’ (Bloomberg Green, 19 May 2020)
‘2020 World Air Quality Report’, (IQAir)

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