Will a grave crisis experienced by the world, make a solution for a worse crisis than the former? That would depend on the decision taken by the world's nations today. The corona conundrum has taught man a few lessons. Those lessons will give an opportunity to tide over the climate crisis, but on a condition: humanity – more specifically governments of nations – should display the wisdom to imbibe those lessons well and a resolve to re-set life-styles. If that is achieved, the covid crisis will become a crucial moment to save the world. The key lesson that covid taught the world is that once armed with the right awareness about an impending disaster, humanity will be capable of bringing in dramatic changes in the way we live.
A demand raised by climate scientists for decades is that carbon emissions should be brought down to the minimum. But governments by and large have been of the line that nothing affecting 'economic development' is feasible. Even the Paris Climate Change Agreement on carbon emissions was passed after much dilution made in the name of being pragmatic. It was when even this was not truly honoured that the corona virus came and closed overnight industrial activities which were never thought to be suspendable. Thus it took a pandemic to convince us that in compelling situations all that is possible. And now, it does not need to be proved that if (and only if) human beings become aware that what the climate crisis has created is a crisis bigger than the covid crisis, solutions are possible. The figures about the gains made by environment thanks to corona are a positive indication. The degradation of environment started in the middle of the 19th century with the beginning of industrial age. In 1851, the total carbon emission in the world was a mere 2 Crore tons per year. In 2018 that increased to 3,600 Crore tons. A bigger disaster was averted only because a major chunk of the gaseous waste was absorbed by plants and oceans. But there is a limit to this capacity to absorb. The figures for two to three decades are here to warn us that the said critical stage has arrived. The presence of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached 407 ppm (parts per million) in 2018. The inference of scientists is that this level was experienced by the earth only 30 lakh years earlier. Global warming also rose to record highs. The heat that increased during the period from 1975 to 2015, was by one degree Celsius over a hundreds ago. It is in this unhealthy state that corona is arriving in the form of a new crisis.
The lockdown vastly mitigated the scale of pollution. The quantity of nitrogen dioxide emitted by vehicles and factories in the atmosphere , and which destroys the respiratory system of living beings, decreased considerably, as vouched for by the 'Copernicus Sentinel' satellite of European Space Agency and NASA's 'Aura' satellite. There are other figures too showing that not only nitrogen dioxide, but carbon dioxide too was reduced in the Chinese sky. According to a study by Energy-Clean Air Research Centre, due to the lockdown of China, at least 200 megatons of carbon contamination escaped being dissolved in the atmosphere. A fourth of the total pollution was thus obviated. In the industrial cities of Asia and Europe, pollution came down to a great extent. So is the case of American cities. In India, the air pollution level of Delhi dropped by 79 per cent. Various studies tell that this trend was noticed at the global level too. Whether these consoling figures should give way to disconcerting numbers of heavy wastes, is a question for mankind to decide. As soon as lockdown started being eased gradually, governments have begun talking about resuming 'economic activities'.
There is no doubt that economy has to be rebuilt. But it will be an error of judgment if we decide that the only way is of over-production and intense industrialisation, which have by now proved suicidal. Reckless 'growth' is a philosophy of cancerous molecule. Even as the method of taking GDP (Gross Domestic Product) as the index of growth may be beneficial for exploiters and monopolies, it will do harm to communities. Wrecking and rewriting many things so far considered sacred, is the way to achieve economic progress without pushing the level of pollution to that of the earlier era. Some actions that need to be taken immediately include abandoning the dependence on fossil fuels and reducing the number of private vehicles by investing more in public transport, in addition to urgent reforms. This is the time to appoint a high-level commission targeting these goals. The brief of the commission should be to submit on priority, practical guidelines to ensure national progress and economic welfare, through imbibing the wholesome lessons imparted by covid. Covid can be made into an opportunity and a trigger for crucial solutions to save the planet.