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THE EVOLUTION OF ECO-CENTRIC WORLD IN THE AFTERMATH OF COVID – 19

Author: Aleena Rose Jose, III year of B.Com.,LL.B.(Hons.) from His Highness Maharajas Govt. Law College, Ernakulam


Introduction

Homi J Bhabha who is enthroned in the minds of millions of Indians as the mastermind behind the success of atomic energy in India was also a great visionary who taught us how to carry on the developmental projects without harming the nature.


One day as Bhabha was travelling by a car to his office, he heard the noise of cutting trees. He asked his driver to stop the car and came out. There he saw a few workers chopping the branches of a tree in order to cut it down. Bhabha asked them, ‘Why are you cutting the tree?’ They starred at him and replied “We are doing this as per the instruction of the municipal engineer. We must do it for broadening the road. See, this tree is in the middle of the road”. Bhabha pleaded them to stop their work for an hour. They agreed. He hastly got into the car. As soon as he reached the office he called Vaidya, the head of landscaping in the Atomic Research Centre and discussed with him how to save the tree. Vaidya headed to the Peddar Road in Bombay where he saw the men waiting for him. Under the supervision of Vaidya the workmen plucked off the tree without damaging its main root. With the help of a crane it was replanted carefully in a pit dug nearby. Bhabha thanked Vaidya and said that he was so delighted as the could save the tree. Spreading its branches around, that rain tree is still alive as a homage to the great scientist.


When we think about an eco-centric world, the first and foremost challenge is to strike a balance between development and nature conservation. The above incident is very relevant in the current scenario where people started to think about an eco centric lifestyle amidst of Covid-19. Development and nature conservation are inevitable factors of our existence and should go hand in hand. No one is too small to make a difference. A difference is made when we give nature a voice in our decision making.


Eco-centric Worldview

A shift from anthropocentric worldview to eco centric worldview is essential for solving the environmental crisis. Ecocentrism finds inherent value in all of nature. It takes a much wider view of the world than does anthropocentrism . Ecocentrism is the broadest of world views but there are related worldviews. Ecocentrism goes beyond biocentrism by including environmental systems as whole and their abiotic aspects. I t also goes beyond zoo-centrism on account of explicitly including flora and ecological contexts of organisms. Ecocentrism is thus the umbrella that includes biocentrism and zoo-centrism because all these worldviews values the non-human, with ecocentrism having the widest vision. Given that life relies on geological processes and geomorphology to sustain it, and that ‘geodiversity’ also has intrinsic value, the broader term ‘ecocentrism’ seems most appropriate. Ecocentrism as a worldview has been with humanity since we evolved. It can be defined as a value shift fromHomo sapiensto planet earth.1


Will Covid-19 have a Lasting Impact on the Environment?

A look at the statistics gives us an idea about the changes Covid-19 have brought to our ecosystem and how can it contribute to the evolution of an eco-centric world.


Covid-19 was declared as a global pandemic by WHO on 11th March 2020. The world came to a standstill with an unexpected shutdown of everyday activities. The streets of Wuhan, China are deserted after authorities implemented a strict lockdown. In London, the normally bustling pubs, bars and theatres have been closed and people have been told to stay in their homes. Worldwide, flights are being cancelled or turning around in the mid air, as the aviation industry buckles. Those who are able to do so are holed up at home, practicing social distancing and working remotely.It all aimed at controlling the spread of Covid-19 and hopefully reducing the death toll. But all these changes has also led to some unexpected consequences.


Positive Environmental Impacts

Restricted human interaction with nature during crisis time has appeared as a blessing for nature and environment. As industries, transport networks and businesses have closed down, it has brought a sudden drop in carbon emissions. Compared with 2019, levels of pollution in NewYork have reduced nearly 50% in 2020 because of measures to contain virus.


In China, emissions felt 25% at the start of 2020 as people were instructed to stay at home, factories shuttered and coal use fell by 40% at China’s 6 largest power plants since the last quarter of 2019. The proportion of days with ‘good quality air’ was up 11.4% compared with the year before pandemic in 337 cities across China, according to its Ministry of Ecology and Environment. In Europe, satellite images show nitrogen dioxide emissions fading away over Northern Italy. A similar story is playing out in Spain, India and the UK. In Venice, water in the canal cleared and experienced greater water flow. According to German scientist Rainer Froese, the fish biomass will increase due to sharp decline in fishing. As people stayed home due to lockdown and travel restrictions, some animals have been spotted in cities. Sea turtles were spotted laying eggs on beaches they once avoided. In USA, fatal vehicle collisions with animals such as deer, elk, moose, bears, mountain lions fell by 58% during March and April 2020.2


Only an immediate and essential threat like Covid-19 would have led to such a profound change so fast, at the time of writing, global deaths from the virus had passed 56 lakhs with more than 37 crore cases confirmed worldwide.3 As well as the toll of early deaths, the pandemic has brought widespread job losses and threatened the livelihoods of millions as businesses struggle to cope up with the restrictions being put in place to control the virus. Economic activities has stalled and stock markets have tumbled alongside the falling carbon emissions. It’s the precisely opposite to the drive towards a decarbonized sustainable economy that many have been advocating for decades.


A pandemic that is claiming people’s lives should not be seen as a way of bringing about environment change either. Eventhough we can say that this may contribute to evolution of an eco- centric world, for one thing, its far from certain how lasting this dip in emissions will be. When the pandemic eventually subsides, will carbon and pollutant emissions ‘bounce back’ so much that it will be as if this clear skied interlude never happened? Or could the changes we see today have a more persistent effect. We cannot answer this crucial question with a complete yes or no.


According to Kimberly Nicholas, a sustainability science researcher at Lund University in Sweden, the first thing to be considered is the different reasons that emissions dropped. If we take transport for example which makeup 23% of global carbon emissions. These emissions have fallen in short terms in the countries where public health measures such as keeping people in their home, have cut unnecessary travel. Driving and aviation are key contributors to emissions from transport contributing to 72% and 11% of the transport sectors greenhouse gas emissions respectively. We know that for the duration of reduced travel during the pandemic, these emissions will stay lowered. But what will happen when measures are eventually lifted? In terms of routine trips like commuting, those miles left untraveled during the pandemic are not going to comeback – you are not going to travel today to make up for all the times you worked from home, says Nicholas. But what about other kinds of travel-might the cabin fever of self isolation encourage people to travel more when the option is there again.4


On the other hand, it may be the care that people who are avoiding travel right now are really appreciating spending time with their families and focusing on those really core priorities. These moments of crisis can highlight how important those priorities and help people focus on the health and wellbeing of family, friends and community. If this changes in focus as a result of the pandemic sticks, then this could help to keep emissions lower. But there is another way it could go. It could also be that people are putting of long distance trips but plan on taking them later. Frequently flying forms a large part of carbon footprint for people who do it regularly. So, these emissions could simply comeback if people return to their old habits. The positive environmental effects of Covid-19 reduction of noise pollution, ecological restoration and assimilation of tourist spots.


Negative Environmental Impacts

Other than positive impacts Covid-19 bought to our ecosystem, medical waste management has became a challenging issue. Some people are at high risk of adverse effects from contact to medical wastes as well, including cleaners, trash collectors and some other people who have to spend a great amount of time in public places.


The masks we use are made up of plastic based materials that are liquid-resistant and are long lasting after they are discarded, ending up in ocean or landfill. The surgical masks should not be worn longer than one day, discarding them and empty bottles of hand sanitizer along with solid tissue papers are ending up to a huge trail of medical waste in the environment. For instance, an environmental NGO- Oceans Asia in Soko islands took a survey, according to it, in HonKong, were Covid-19 infection started in January 2020, a large amount of discarded single-use masks washed upto a 100 metre stretch of beach. Due to the Covid-19 outbreak, the general public have started wearing surgical measures. When 7 million people suddenly start wearing one or a couple of masks daily, single use gloves and hand sanitizers, the amount of trash created is going to be substantial. The contrary impacts of such medical wastes are far reaching. When these are remained discarded in an animals natural habitat in both land and ocean this could cause animals to mistakenly eat this as food and lead in their deaths.5


This is not the first time an epidemic has left its mark on atmospheric CO2 levels. Throughout history, the spread of disease has been linked to lower emissions-even well before the industrial age. It is found that epidemics such as the Black Death in Europe in the 14th century and the diseases such as smallpox brought to South America with the arrival of Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century, both left subtle marks on atmospheric CO2 levels. The impact from today’s outbreak is not predicted to lead to anywhere near the death tolls of these pandemics, it is unlikely to lead to widespread change of land use. Its environmental impacts are more akin to those of recent world events, such as the financial crash of 2008 and 2009. Then, global emissions dropped immensely for an year. Eventhough the financial crash of 2008-09 led to an overall dip in emissions, but this quickly rebounded by 2010 as the economy recovered, leading to an all time high. There are hints that corona virus will act the same way. One of the factor that could influence whether or not these emissions bounce back is how long the corona pandemic lasts. At the moment it is hard to predict. But, it could be that we see longer term and more substantial effects. If the corona virus outbreak continues long then consumer demand could remain low because of low wages.


According to researchers such as Glen Peters of the Centre for International Climate and Environment Research in Ohio have noted that overall 2020 may still see a drop in global emissions of 0.3% less pronounced than the crash of 2008-09, but also with an opportunity for less rebound if efforts to stimulate the economy are focused towards sectors such as clean energy.


From the above studies we can almost arrive at a conclusion that Covid -19 can’t bring about a long term impact in our environment as situation rebounces when the virus eventually subsides. But it is clear that if there is limited human intervention, the nature makes use of its cleansing power to clear out the water bodies and atmosphere and its we who should give a chance.


Eventhough Covid-19 alone can’t lead to the evolution of an eco -centric world, we can use this as the first step towards attaining the goal. If we succeed in keeping our environment to an extent as if it is now, then we are a step nearer to the target. If we are able to contribute certain other factors to the present ecological impacts caused by Covid-19, an eco- centric world will be evolved in the near future.


What can we do?

‘No One is Too Small to Make a Difference’ is a collection of Greta Thunberg’s climate action speeches. The title must be taken to heart by all. She is a 9th grade student who made a difference. She started the activism from home. She challenged her parents to lower the family’s carbon footprint and overall impact on environment by becoming vegan, upcycling and giving up flying. This is the first step, change should be initiated by ourselves in our families.


According to Greta, “People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing We are at the beginning of a mass extinction. And all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you?”6 Egocentric leadership is the root cause of our environmental crisis. We must change the way we understand and relate to the natural world. To do so, cultivate an eco-centric not egocentric mindset. Our planet is in trouble. Evenafter mobilizing millions of dollars to mitigate and respond to the damaging effects of climate change, we may only addressing the symptoms of a deep rooted issue. We have seen a significant rise in declarations of climate emergency, conferences, coalitions and innovations to address climate change- but we are also seeing an increasing gap between what is needed and what is actually been done to safeguard our planet. Coming forward and signing international contracts relating to environmental crisis and withdrawing from them before the tenure is completed can be regarded as utter cowardness.


Today’s dominant leadership is egocentric. Our planet needs eco-centric leadership. For the evolution of an eco-centric world we need eco-centric leaders who truly embody empathy, walk the talk and demonstrate the courage needed to create a better green world.


Eco-centrism has been labelled ‘anti-human’ or as contrary to concerns for social justice. This is not true as an ecocentrist overwhelmingly support inter human social justice. However they also support interspecies justice or ecojustice, for the non-human world. Just as environmental systems evolve many interrelationships, environmental and social systems are entwined and so social and ecojustice.


Therefore, social wellbeing is essential for the evolution of an eco-centric world. Wars, bombs, terrorism and internal conflicts hampers it. Displacement of people due to war and riots affects the nature effectively. The flow of refugees should be an issue of concern. A society where male and female live happily and peacefully by equally sharing their responsibilities is essential for the attainment of an eco-centric world. War and use of nuclear weapons must be strictly monitored. It can cause huge damage to life and property of humans and a huge destruction of flora and fauna. The radiations emitted may last for centuries. Maintaining peace and harmony in the frontiers and friendly relationship with neibouring countries is essential.


Sustainable development is vital in the evolution of an eco-centric world. A development that meets of present without compromising the needs of future generations. This concept is praised by many scholars, leaders and scientists over the time.


The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), set in 2015 by UN General Assembly are a collection of 17 global goals designed to be a ‘blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all’ and intended to be achieved by 2030.7The 17 goals are broad and interdependent. Each of the SDGs has a list of targets which are measured with indicators. Let’s hope that positive environmental impacts of Covid-19 help in achieving the SDGs.


Rather than reducing the usage of vehicles we must think of switching over to alternative means. India being a subtropical country have abundance of sunlight throughout the year( except a few months). If we effectively utilize this renewable resource, in the era of electronic vehicles it can contribute a lot of sustainable development. As the photovoltaic technology which converts solar energy into electric energy is highly expensive, government can provide it in a subsidy rate. We must maximum make use of the renewable resources available in our country. Government can encourage traditional agricultural practices and dairy farming.


Conclusion

Never let anymore catastrophes claiming people’s life to make us realize the importance of nature conservation. Always lend your ears to the expert opinions. Words by Dr. Madhav Gadgil a few years ago is still echoing in our ears, “Things are getting worse in Western Ghats. If delays is caused any longer to prevent it, Kerala is going to face a huge disaster. As you think this will never take millions of years to happen, it will happen within four or five years. When it happens we all will be here alive. Then you will realize who is lying”.8

The biggest lesson is to learn from our mistakes and the incidents all around warns us to change our lifestyle. We must shift the way we view and relate to nature, and understand that it is a single living organism which is inextricably interconnected. We must adopt an eco-centric mindset whereby we are grateful to and revere nature, rather than considering ourselves superior to it. We must discard our transactional attitudes and cultivate a personal relationship with nature recognizing that the health and prosperity and our economy is dependent on the natural world. This way of living is not new. It is found in many ancient philosophies, religions and indigenous cultures.


We must embody these values and shift our focus from “What can nature do for me?” to “What can I do for nature?” Let these changes begin at home, from the grassroot level. Hope the upcoming COP-27 put forward some effective steps in this regard.


Greta sys, “ I want to feel safe. How can I feel safe when I know we are in the greatest crisis in human history”.9 The positive changes that occurred during Covid-19 will not last long if we are not serious in its implementation. Let the coming generations do not blame us in destroying this heavenly ecosystem. Covid-19 reminds us it is the high time to think about our mother earth and to choose the righteous path that we must walk through.


References

1. Why Ecocentrism is the Key Pathway to Sustainability, Earth and Sustainability Science Research Centre (ESSRC), 31st July 2017

2. Martha Henriques, Will Covid-19 have a Lasting Impact on the Environment? ,BBC, 27th March 2020

3. Covid-19 Coronavirus Pandemic Updates, Worldometer, 31st January 2022

4. Martha Henriques, Will Covid-19 have a Lasting Impact on Environment?, BBC, 27th March 2020

5. No Shortage of Surgical Masks at the Beach, OceansAsia , 28th February 2020

6. Greta Thunberg, Wikipedia, 25th January 2022 ( Last Edited)

7. Sustainable Development Goals, Wikipedia, 30th January 2022 ( Last Edited)

8. Things Getting Worse in Western Ghats, says Madhav Gadgil, The Economic Times, 19th October 2021

Simon Hattenstone, The Transformation of Greta Thunberg, The Guardian, 25th September 2021