When global activity slowed to a crawl during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic that has been ongoing since 2020, it altered the state of human civilization in unpredictable and long-lasting ways. The economic routine that everyone had adapted to throughout their lifetime had been altered, and getting back to it today still remains a tough challenge to many. It’s not like we can hit pause on the happenings on the rest of the world until we can get back on our feet. Either we keep up or we can’t.
But that was mostly humanity’s problem. For the planet during that time, it was practically a vacation – like when the kids are staying over at a relative’s house, and life at home is finally quiet and peaceful for a very long time.
Contact has been a critical word during the pandemic, and the community tried its best to find some workarounds to that issue while still making a living. Many turned to the work-at-home approach, drastically cutting commute and travel and ultimately putting far fewer active vehicles on the streets, seas, and air. Fewer vehicles typically meant lower pollution rate, and in a world where curbing climate change is an absolute must, the ongoing tragedy that is the coronavirus pandemic – and the subsequent lockdowns that spawned from it – yielded a semblance of good news to the planet itself.
According to the US-based Institute for Energy Research (IER), carbon dioxide emissions declined by an estimated 7% globally in 2020. In its report (published last January), all of the world’s major economies saw a dip in emissions throughout a sizable portion of the year, except for China – which picked up along with its economy after just 4 months. The 7% annual decline was considered as “the largest drop in emissions ever recorded, and the largest relative fall since the second world war”.
You don’t need to see numbers and statistics to prove that emissions had dropped that year. In India, where the more populous regions are often enveloped in smog due to air pollution, the fall in emissions literally cleared the air for a crystal-clear view of the Himalayas 125 miles away for the first time in 30 years. The instance of smog-lifting in India is an opportunity for a fantastic view of its architectural wonders, but these instances are not limited to that country alone. For one, it’s a perfect opportunity for the housebound community to open up their windows and take in the clean air after being practically cooped up 24×7.
Unfortunately, this period wasn’t exactly smooth sailing for the planet either. Climate change, which already has worsened over the years – even before the pandemic – still reared its head with massive wildfires, destructive storms, and even contributed somewhat to the worsening of the said health crisis.
As humanity is aware of this worsening situation but is still left inept to do much in its capacity, we have to realize that societies will continue to pick up where they left off sooner or later. The smog has once again returned to India, particularly in the north, forcing school shutdowns and deterring tourists due to the severity of the air hazard. The US is struggling to cater to the oil/gas demands and dealing with the fallouts such as soaring prices. We’re not just going to get back to square one. Things will become far worse.
We shouldn’t neglect the fact that the pandemic did offer a creative burst within people in the form of hobbies and new activities, and gardening was an interesting standout. Even now, a walk through the streets of some communities would land you in interesting botanical feats – from makeshift gardens to the reuse of disposable materials as containers and supports for plants. But as the economy reopens, less time would be focused on tending to those activities.
Understandably, we had to tiptoe around the pandemic and avoid its lethality – somehow finding a way to eliminate it or at least survive through it to address the next major challenge to our way of life. The problem, however, lies in the priority of those challenges. Climate change is still being treated as more of a consistent, underlying issue with its sporadic effects being blasted through media on an everyday basis, while everyone else is too busy with other problems to worry about. In reality, climate change is a driver (if not an instigator) of these disasters befalling us, pandemic or otherwise.
2021 saw all types of weather phenomena reaching new extremes – be it hot, cold, wet, dry, or windy. Destructive floods in Egypt swept in deadly scorpions to the residents’ doorsteps. An “Armageddon”-like storm (as described by one civilian) devastated the Canadian western province of British Columbia in the form of an “atmospheric river” – a long strip of moisture in the air that transports water from tropical areas towards the poles. This could’ve been the tip of the iceberg, but that’s hard to say since even those things are on the verge of melting.
Obviously, we have to address and deal with these crises head-on, but we must treat them as a byproduct of the larger problem that is climate change. Instead of making 2020 and 2021 be bygones in memory, it should be a period of retrospect, taking the eco-friendly habits we acquired as an incentive to work on bigger sights for the future. When emissions fell during the past two years due to lockdowns, it happened out of sheer necessity, not because of a direct motivation to curb climate change. If and when the pandemic is behind us, this necessity no longer becomes an incentive – unless another incident forces us back into lockdowns.
At this pace, getting back to normal means resuming our oblivious course to planetary ruin. And as witnessed by the climate disasters even amid two years of stillness, climate change won’t take a break… even if you do. The best solution is to acknowledge that period of lowered emissions and find ways to improve its implementation while returning to the pre-pandemic lifestyle that everyone was attuned to. Take the challenges as a learning curve while keeping your eye on the ball. Don’t let this be the last vacation for Mother Nature.