The main engine of climate change is the greenhouse effect. The greenhouse gases released into to the atmosphere entrap more radiated solar heat from the Earth’s surface, raise the world temperature, and alter global climate patterns.
Until recently, much heat and carbon dioxide have been absorbed by the planet’s oceans, resulting in rising water temperatures and increased acidification of the waters. This, in turn, led to mass die-off of coral reefs, loss of habitat for many fish species, and other deleterious effects to the planet.
Disruptions to human life
A warmer atmosphere due to the emission of greenhouse gases can also lead to chaotic weather, catastrophic flooding, decreasing rainfall, frequent and prolonged heat wave, and devastating wildfires. All of these will become more pronounced over time. It is believed this can suddenly occur, with little warning, and can result in large-scale disruptions to human life.
It seems like the Mother Nature is saying, “Stop! Don’t go beyond this point, or there will be dreadful consequences!” It is a sign for us to not go outside the critical threshold as it will bring abrupt and drastic changes in the ecological systems.
Since the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is violently spreading, clear blue skies and empty roads have become the rarest of rare phenomena across the globe. The sudden reduction of human activities gives a chance to nature to breathe with a sigh of relief. It is fascinating to see how nature seems to reassert itself and pronounce its right, leaving clear indication of how pollution created by human has impacted Mother Earth.
Today’s evidence has shown that the first law of ecology, “Everything is connected to everything else” is undeniably true. We can see how nature is functionally connected to the network of interconnection in the ecospheres, among the living organisms, between populations and species, and their physicochemical surroundings.
Better air quality
Jam-packed cities recorded lesser number of people venturing out in cars, when the lockdowns came into being. Places with 500 to 600 AQI (Air Quality Index) during winters have recorded a huge drop to as low as 50, enabling people to breathe and experience clean air after years of pollution. Shutting down industrial activity and reducing vehicles on the roads after the restriction order was imposed have reduced air pollution levels across the world. The London Air Quality Network reported that levels of nitrogen oxide (NO2) were distinctly comparatively lower than in the same period last year.
Swans, dolphins and fish have moved to spaces left empty by humans, the Himalayas can be seen again from parts of India after decades, murky rivers and canals have become more vibrant and cleaner, otters cheekily enjoy a day out at the park, wildlife returning home, which makes us think, “Are we the virus on Earth? And, is COVID-19 Earth’s vaccine?” A really heart-warming message that leaves a mark on everyone called human.
Yes, some of us may not agree with what is written here. However, at points, we must agree that nature is now showing up indicators of freedom. Animals coming out as the surroundings are quiet and peaceful from human activities. Unquestionably, as the water became colder, as the air became cleaner, fish and dolphins began to move into spaces left empty by humans.
Restoring the natural order of things
The interplay between human activity and planetary behaviour has led us to rethink and reconceptualise the Earth as a complex matrix of living and non-living systems that interact to each other, under normal conditions, to maintain a stable balance. And, when one of the major matrix components is damaged, ruined or abandoned, the other components will respond in their unique ways in attempting to restore the natural order of things. All we need is peace of nature, not pieces of nature.
This coronavirus pandemic has become a wake-up call for humans to stop exceeding the Earth’s limit. We use the Earth’s resources faster than they can be restored. We release wastes and pollution quicker and greater in volume than they can be absorbed. We have long been setting ourselves up for disaster. All of which goes to show that we never care for the planetary boundaries.
Humans are resilient. We are capable of beginning again. We must learn from our failings. We can build a brighter future. Now is the right time for us to embrace the moment of upheaval as an opportunity to start investing in resilience, shared prosperity and become concerned for planetary health. The entire human race can actually work together towards a sustainable future, if we want. So, yes, it is strongly believed, there is huge potential to restore our degraded ecosystems on a large scale. Earth recovery is possible.
During this lockdown, while staying at home, we can still get in touch with families and friends via phone calls, video calls through various media, and take care of parents and grandparents. Staying indoors will not just be to save our lives, but also doing our bit in healing nature. A more sustainable future is not merely for our next generation, but also for the ecosystem as a whole. After this pandemic ends, we probably can see Earth serene and smiling.
Dr Azra Munirah Mat Daud is Senior Lecturer at Micropollutant Research Centre, Faculty of Civil Engineering and Built Environment, Universiti Tun Hussein Onn Malaysia.