Even after COVID-19, experts believe that social distancing and other safety measures may become the norm. Their rather alarming speculation is that these measures may become more necessary than precautionary.
According to scientists around the world, the coronavirus emergency is just the beginning of a series of disasters, including both natural hazards and man-made catastrophes. Needless to say, the reason for both is the same: our species’ overuse of natural resources and destruction of the Earth. For centuries, man lived in tandem with nature, one supplementing and complementing the other. This, however, changed quickly when we shifted our focus from procuring what we need to what we want. This resulted in deforestation, shift from renewable energy sources to faster, non-renewable ones, exhaustion of fossil fuels, over-utilisation of coal, over-consumption of drinking water, etc. These changes in nature led to the loss of wildlife, and animal species started to go extinct like dominoes. More recent government reforms have also pushed the populations in some countries to resort to wild animal harvesting for their everyday needs. The diseases in these wild animals have started to mutate and cause infections in humans, much like the SARS virus, Ebola virus, and the currently-raging COVID-19. According to Center for Disease Control and Prevention of the United States of America, most viruses that affect human beings come from animals, and this coronavirus may be just the beginning.
It goes without saying that climate change is a direct result of this exploitation. Climate change is a burning reality that we have been perpetually ignoring. If you think we’ve seen the worst, global warming has been and will continue to be the biggest cause of species extinction for the world in the 21st century. The IPCC predicts that just a 1.5°C average rise will put 20-30% of all species on Earth at risk of extinction. If the planet warms by more than 2°C, most ecosystems will struggle beyond what we are already witnessing. While the Arctic cap melts, glaciers shrink, deserts expand and water shortage becomes a stark reality, the Earth already has and will continue to give way to disasters such as droughts, famines, avalanches and desertification. If the change in climate seems like a far-away fantastical concept, it is advisable that you run a google search on the matter. Spoiler alert: you will see that water shortage is a reality for our fellow men in South Africa, parts of India and around the world, that farmers everywhere have had to change their crops and patterns to suit the heat, and that more and more cyclones over the past years have caused villages and villagers to be swept away without warning.
It is true, however, that the only thing that sets apart homo sapiens from other species on the Earth is our will and capacity to correct our mistakes. The key to a healthy Earth is a healthy ecosystem. The ecosystem is made of our environment and those who live in it. This includes all kinds of flora and fauna. But maintaining past levels of stability may not be enough this time. After this pandemic, we may need to reflect and empathise with everyone that’s not us, and change the way we think. We have to make sensitivity a way of life, and worry about consequences before we do something, not after another pandemic that forces introspection upon us. Next time you go back to the office, remember the daily wage worker who had nothing for over six months. Next time you speak about a social issue, remind yourself of the house help you treated badly. Next time you read history, don’t read it from the point of view of a victor.
While we come to terms with the morbid reality of the current pandemic, we have to lift our heads and look for the light ahead. We have to use the realisation that the pandemic has brought us to plan fervently for a future free of such anomalies, and the only way we can do that is to orient policy-making in a direction that supports sustainability, human rights, and animal rights. As the world pushes to go back to ‘normal,’ we may have to settle for something completely new. After what we hope is the worst of the pandemic, we have to rectify the way we live on both a macro and micro level. Be it brushing our teeth, separating our trash, or the next time we give out salaries, we have to remember to save. “Saving” here doesn’t refer to the monetary proposition of keeping something for yourself for a rainy day. In this context, saving means saving water, saving the planet, and saving a starving stomach respectively.
On a macro-level, this might be the best time for governments to change to more sustainable and long-term policy solutions. The right approach to this is inclusion. If you have followed the news on how countries with female leaders have fared well under the pandemic, know that it’s not because women are better leaders; this phenomenon can be attributed to the fact that these countries probably involve more people in a decision-making process than a traditional patriarchal structure, and are thus able to understand any issue from more perspectives than others. Every country will benefit if women, members of the LGBTQIA++ community, environmentalists, the poorest class, and even industrialists are included in the policy-making process. This will ensure that nobody’s interests are neglected, and policy-making is not monopolised by those with masked agendas and veiled goals. Another way to make sure we make changes on a wider level is to harness the power of the non-governmental organisations and governmental associations that have been working tirelessly through the pandemic to provide support of all sorts to the lowest rungs of the economic ladder. The government must acknowledge, support, and get behind the initiatives that have received great responses, and perhaps they might learn from them.
Of course, the last factor that is the most important in bringing about change on all levels is accountability. The government must be accountable to the people before, during, and after making decisions. The people must be accountable to each other in creating tolerant communities. You must be accountable to yourself, your community, your country, and the world.
The truth is that consequences catch up to you. The deeds of previous generations and their exploitation of our Earth will be dealt with by today’s youth, and if the youth steps up and deals with these consequences instead of perpetuating this cycle, we may be able to create a world where things go wrong, but mistakes are accepted; where future generations are able to breathe freely without the risk of toxins, viruses and chemicals; and where the government can lead the people by being a part and pillar of a tolerant community whose aim is that something like this pandemic does not happen again.