Ever since the first case of the Coronavirus was discovered in December 2019 in Wuhan, China, the whole world has struggled to contain the virus, which has taken over 306,000 lives, according to statistics from Worldometers.
In a very long time, there have been no event or crisis that have brought the world to a standstill, neither has there been an occurrence that has made all nations and governments join forces to put an end to a scourge as this. Proactive actions to slow the spread of the disease has ranged from compulsory lockdowns, cancellations of international travels, stay-at-home orders, and other such advocacies intended to curb the spread.
One visible effect of the lockdown and stay-at-home orders, as evident in many parts of the world, has been a drastic reduction in carbon emissions, largely as a result of the decline in the movement of people in their automobiles, a big drop (almost standstill) in international travels; reduction in the emissions from factories and firms, and many other activities that are culpable in the depletion of the ozone layer.
No doubt, many environmentalists have perceived the reduction in carbon emissions as a large step towards the earth’s gradual healing, as human activities have further positioned us closer to an apocalyptic and eventual cataclysmic end, if nothing was done to save the world from our very own decisions to use non-reusable energy and fossil fuel burning, to drive our nations and economies.
Simon Evans, in his article, “Analysis: Coronavirus set to cause largest ever annual fall in CO2 emissions,” identified the countries and industries that contributed the most to the world’s C02 emissions – China and the United States, the EU carbon market, the power sector in India and the global oil sector – to the total of three-quarters worth of carbon; that’s quite alarming! Needless to say that the entire African continental at an approximate annual estimate of 4% CO2 emission pre-COVID19 now has death figures ascending.
Obvious enough, Coronavirus could lead to a huge cut in carbon emissions, over 2000 million tonnes, and while this might be some sort of good news, which may lead many to think that there is much hope for the world, especially in dire times as this, when humans are bent from surviving from a virus that seems deadlier than HIV/AIDS.
There is however a twist to the whole story – many environmentalists have also warned that the possibility of carbon emissions rebounding after the pandemic, is unnegotiable, as nations would want to revive their already crippled economies; people would want to travel again, and businesses that thrive solely on non-renewable sources of energy would get started again, meanwhile, with greater efforts.
The attention of many people has been shifted from the narratives of the past to the possibilities of greater carbon emissions post COVID-19. Little attention is being given to the present challenges the world faces environmental wise. One of those seemingly subtle environmental challenges is the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) by both medical workers, and citizens to increase protection from the virus. Many of the PPEs are non-reusable and disposable, and they constitute potential harm to the environment.
The Verge in a report mentioned how medical wastes in Wuhan – a city in China where the Coronavirus firstly emerged, generated six times more medical wastes, during the height of the pandemic in that country.
This situation thus portends that, if these medical wastes are not properly handled, then a large percentage of the wastes could find their way back to the environment, thereby decontaminating and degrading the environment. The facemask, majorly worn by all and sundry, has been more culpable to littering the environment more than the rest of the PPEs. In the city of Ibadan where I reside, here and there, one could find facemasks littering the ground.
This tells us that so much could be happening, right under our noses, but the concern to protect ourselves from the virus has overshadowed other harmful activities we might be involved in, as humans, who are the major culprits of environmental degradation.
The Coronavirus has also brought about an improvement in lifestyle, exemplified through hand washing as a safe way of being protected. This has predisposed people to use more soap and hand sanitizers to wash their hands. This means more harm comes to the environment, as soap and sanitisers contain the chemicals triclocarban (TCC) and triclosan (TCS), both dangerous and not easily degradable.
These chemicals are known as the major contaminants of lakes and other water bodies, and highly instrumental to the death of aquatic animals.
No doubt, staying safe and staying protected from the Coronavirus is a necessity which all humans should take cognisance of, and which should top the priority list. However, it is also essential to do this sustainably, in such a way that more harm wouldn’t befall the environment, and then future generations can enjoy life on earth and thrive!
By Omopo Abimbola (Ibadan and Seyifunmi Adebote (Abuja)