The world we are living in today has seen no such precedent before. The uncertainty is real at every level – local, national and global. The COVID-19 pandemic has ensured that all of us are coming up with different coping and fighting mechanisms. Even though nations and states have devised varying strategies, but more or less it is all boiling down to containment of the deadly virus by restricting movement, interactions and travel. Truth be told, psychologically we have all accepted that a new normal scenario has emerged even for the future.
Amidst this, Mother Nature, who has been seeing since ages civilizations rise and fall, eras pass by, is getting a chance to heal herself. The quintessential human ‘greed’ as highlighted by Gandhi has subsided with restricted movement and reduced pollution levels, letting the forests and wildlife breathe easy. Every other day, social media is abuzz with sightings of hoards of wild animals strutting down the roads, alleys that were once their real homes! The caged set free, while the hitherto free seem caged ! Twitter is lit with images of snow-clad Himalayas from cities like Jalandhar and Saharanpur, an occurrence that had stopped in the last 50 years with the rapid industrial and pollution outburst. Delhites and Mumbaikars have been seeing clear blue skies in the day and stars in the night, which probably our generation had almost skipped in the last 20 to 30 years!
My own experience on a recent inspection to Rohtang Pass was telling. Just last year, I was greeted with thick black soot deposition on the snow all along the roads, and the visibility was also a tad hazy. This time however, Rohtang actually presented a pristine white landscape with absolutely clear visibility, higher volume of snow still and no plastic bottles strewn around! The silence seethed a sigh of relief on the part of the high mountains, who have in the recent past been the biggest victims of climate change and global warming – Retreating glaciers, erratic and extreme weather events, melting permafrost , air & water pollution, strewn unprocessed wastes and over-exceeding their carrying capacity. Studies have revealed that 2/3rd of glaciers would be wiped off if CO2 emissions are not contained immediately – leading to impending water crises for the future.
It has been 48 long years since the world took a first hard look at the perils of unabated industrialization through Club of Rome’s ‘Limits to Growth’ report in 1972. Treaties have been signed since, conventions declared and agreements made. Diplomacy, politics, advocacy groups, enlightened citizens have all made a foray into finding solutions to save the planet. Yet, they have been unable to suffice. Habitat destruction of forest and wildlife species is still occurring, the spillover effect of which is COVID-19. The clarion calls of global warming by IPCC that Earth would tip over the 1.5 degree Celsius mark soon have yet not seen concrete outcomes, most notably being the blame game around Paris Agreement.
While who is the culprit can and will always be debated upon, what we all have to agree with is that in order to survive well, we have to change our outlook for a new normal future – the Post COVID world. Ever since the near worldwide lockdown, the greens are getting greener, the whites whiter and the blues more clear. All of it is a consequence of restrained human-nature interaction. While such restrictions will eventually go, what we have to start doing even when normalcy returns is accept that the world and its resources is not just our prerogative – Nature needs to be given an upper hand as a matter of right. Eco-living, sustainability, non-polluting renewables have to shift from being esoteric buzzwords to having realistic outcomes. Citizens have already acclimatized to the work from home concept, it can become a cyclical norm for future too so that our carbon footprints through vehicular movements reduce.
A recent report by World Economic Forum highlighted that more than 50 % of world’s GDP is highly or moderately dependent on nature. $1 used for nature restoration yields atleast $9 of economic benefits. Policy-makers have to understand that developmental costs will be monumental and irreparable if status quo of putting our forests at risk continues -Breaking of forests has consequences for both wildlife as well as human beings. Therefore, if we invest well in eco-restoration and sustainable food produce management, we will not only be able to empower grass root and rural communities, but begin amend for the losses in the past. Solutions lie across the spectrum, what is needed now is action and an enabling environment to sustain them. In Kullu, a picturesque valley of Himachal Pradesh, over the last three years the Forest Dept. has been able to convert wastelands and dump yards into eco-parks by ecologically restoring the land through curated plantations of local species and also developing the areas as ecotourism sites for visitors and locals – a win-win scenario for nature and man. All stakeholders have to keep coming up with ideas that include nature as a part of the solution, only then can the future be saved sustainably.
It is the last opportunity indeed. We can seek inspiration from our ancestors who worshiped Nature in various forms including groves and were the genesis of eco-friendly harmonious living. Humanity can take a giant step by curbing its greed and letting Nature’s need to heal get a real chance! It is our combined future, let us be responsible with our actions and step up the empathy quotient for the natural world around us.
Aishwarya Raj, IFS
(Posted as Deputy Conservator of Forests, Kullu. Views expressed are personal)
The Last Opportunity – Let Nature Heal