A Stagnant World Part Two: Human Impact and COVID-19

In the second installment of Amina Ghezal’s two part series she explores what the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us about our impact on nature and the environment. If you missed Part One of this series you can read it here.

Image Credit: Pixybay

What does the pandemic tell us about our impact on the environment?

A clean, quiet environment and mass sightings of wild animals have not been in such glory in decades. Since the industrial revolution, human activites centuries and urbanization took over the planet, infiringing further and further into habitats and the last strongholds of our ever dwinderling wildlife.

In a very short period of time we have eradicated forests and destroyed various rich ecosystems to build our civilizations. Statments which may seem like cliché notions, but most would argue are a neccessity to support our growing world population, feed hungry mouths, create shelter and provide ammenities for businesses to grow. It is depressing yet eye-opening at the same time to reflect on our relationship with the environment through the eyes of a deadly pandemic.

The photos of wild animals in urban places and the clear blue skies put people in awe and stimulate an attitude of contemplation and reflection. This awe and enchantment are a telltale of the environmental disconnection and alienation that we have conditioned ourselves to embrace as part of modern life.

Image Credit: Pixybay

Humans nowadays have a much greater demand on their environment compared to other species on the planet. We heavily impact earth’s soil, climate, water and landforms without even realising, through different unethical and unfortunately inevitable development processes. The main culprits being expansionism, extractivism, deforestation, burning fossil fuels and urbanization.

Such actions have triggered a series of catasrophic environmental effects which in return cause devistation for some of the world’s most vulnrable populations. In these communities, environmental distatsers are intertwined with socio-economic pressures, and as a result innocent people bear the brunt of the devloped world’s agressive actions. Such inequalities prompt migrations in search of welcoming and safer environments away from resrouce conflicts over vital resources.

Plastic waste crisis in the vicinity of a forest (Photo credit Tom Fisk from Pexels)

Lessons that we should learn:

“if you don’t learn anything from [a] crisis, then you will not learn anything in your life”.

To some extent, this statement holds some value because while self-isolating, we have the opportunity to reflect on our life choices and our impact on the environment. Instead of yearning for the pandemic to meet its end, what about contemplating the following points:

1. We are not alone

One of the most important lessons that we should learn from this pandemic is that we share the planet with other creatures. We have seen that, despite the cities we have built and the sophisticated technologies we have developed, we are vulnrable and suseptable to a microscopic virus which we can’t even see. For centuries we thought we were invinsable – with endless resources and power. With this naivety we unleashed our limitless destruction and exploitation of the planet’s resources and species – with unnatural lack of biodiveristy ‘buffering’, research has revealed that our destructive practices will lead to further infectious outbreaks. We are inevitablly creating the perfet conditions for more diseases like COVID-19 to emerge.

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Urbanization and expansion of modern cities cause inevitable conflicts between wildlife and people. We encroach on their land and then punish them for returning to it. Being home for an extended period, hearing bird song througout the day and seeing countless photos of wild animals in cities has made me think about why I always see animals and birds relaxing calmly on campus.

It is important now to be self-reflective and critical of the costs of our expansion and realize there are other creatures we need to treat with respect, compassion and care.

2. Environmental crises doesn’t stop in a pandemic

I must say that I am lucky to live in a place with clean air and beautiful nature. But whenever I travel to bigger cities, I feel the tangible effect of human activities in the area and I know not everyone has the luxury to live in a pollution free space. As mentioned in my part one article, since the implementation of lockdown measurements, the air quality in many places around the world has improved. Unfortunately, one aspect which has not improved during this pandemic is the waste produces from single use items like disposable masks and gloves. Inevitably in the medical profession these are necessary to create a safe and sterile environment but for the general population this new to us and has created a new pollution ‘epidemic’ which is spreading into our seas and rivers. In April, a WWF report found that even if only 1% of face masks are disposed incorrectly, around 10,000,000 will still end up in the environment each month.

(Image credit: SWNS)

Questions and concluding thoughts

This crisis must be taken as an opportunity to think about our relationship with and impact on the environment. How can we reduce the dreary impact of our actions on the environment? Are we ready to give up luxuries like cars and transportation and just walk or cycle to work and school for example? Are we ready to check where and how food and other products are sorced befpore buying? Are we ready to support local producers and businesses to reduce the high environmental and economic costs of importation and exportation? Are we ready to shift to greener and sustainable energy sources? What are the answers to these questions? The world after COVID-19 will not be the same; economically, politically, socially and environmentally, so what we learn from this experience, will determine our future.

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