Initiated at the Stockholm conference in 1972, Environment day has been recognized sine 1974 with a theme. The theme for year 2020 is ‘Celebrate Biodiversity’ and is hosted by Columbia with Germany.
Corona (COVID-19) with whatever adversities it may have had, it cleaned the environment or ensured that the lockdowns across the world facilitated the cleanup of atmosphere to almost 30-50% in places and countries. It is the restoration time for the nature to on its own path. People were able to see the clear skies which they had not seen for decades. They were able to breath fresh air and walk comfortably across landscapes, limited by the mask worn for the Corona control in crowded places.
Rachel Carson published the book ‘Silent Spring’ in 1962, which became one of the most quoted books for human intervention specially chemical pollution and it was named as one of the greatest science books of all times by the editors of the Discover Magazine in 2002( Wikipedia, April 11, 2020)
The fame book quoted of a spring that would be silent away from singing of the birds, but we had a spring (2020) which was silent from the noises of vehicles, factories, transport etc under lockdown in almost 200 countries. Are they same?
I could not but compare the two scenarios where there is silence in spring;
One, by the loss of the voices of birds as quoted by Rachel Carson. She spoke of the ill effects of the chemicals added to the soil that would affect life and focused on DDT which was known to accumulate in animals including human and claimed that continuous use of such would lead to the loss of birds that would be affected the most and the springs that follow may not have their voices and thus the Silent Spring.
Two, by the impact of the Coronavirus (COVID-19), where the world is shut for factories, transport, machineries etc and humans(about 60%) in many countries have been locked up in their residence for almost 6 weeks and they are silent, but the birds are loud and early singing their voices. It was not the silence of the birds, but, the silencing of the human for the bird to sing, thus a Silenced Spring(2020), may be the way nature springs, its answer.
Corona had several lessons on environment and the use and misuses of resources and facilities and showed we could live better with fewer facilities and resources, saving the environment as a whole. Whether we learnt the lesson or await another Corona, will be seen over the years after the pandemic. This justifies the statement by Gandhi as “world has enough for the need of every one but not for all their wants” recognizing the difference between the needs and wants. It has been noted by many, that there had been fewer sick people during the Corona lockdowns who otherwise crowd the hospitals across the land. May be this is not a critical analysis but an artifact. But it was true that people tried to cope up with smaller illness and discomfort at home by traditional remedies than to end up channeling consultants.
Let us perceive the magnitude of a natural disaster of a pandemic like Corona which may never end but become part of life over time like Ebola, HIV etc. Please be also aware that the cure has to be from the body itself though other measures facilitates the cure but comforts the affected. Recent account of the IPBES (Intergovernmental on Biodiversity and ecosystem services) Global assessments in 2019, had revealed that ‘a million animal and plant are now threatened with extinction, many within decades more than ever before in human history’. The order of the culprits in a descending order as Change in land and sea usage, Direct exploitation of organisms, Climate change, Pollution and Invasive alien species, which are also relevant to us in Sri Lanka. Sand mining, filling of the ocean/beach, Human –elephant conflict, extraction of medicinal plants, export of endemic species, increase of sea level rise, salinization, pollution of wetlands, and solid waste management have been highlighted as issues of environment in Sri Lanka, along the same lines. It was recommended by the IPBES report that we need to consider changes in our way of life; similar recommendations have been made locally and globally for change in life style in reference to Corona or such in future.
Let us collectively ensure that nature is nurtured for the welfare of the world today and tomorrow. Let us live by the nature, vested in our culture as traditional practices, foods and habits over may centuries of existence which may have the immunity and mechanism to cope up with Corona and any new biological disaster while providing space for the restoration of nature itself. Let us refrain from those activities that cost the environment for short term benefits where we lose at the end.
It is a symbol of goodwill that the day of Poson poya coincides with the world environment day of June 5, 2020. Poson symbolises the new Prophesies that came to the island 2000 years ago and let us on this day begin a new chapter with nature as a friend. It will nurture us and the future generations of Sri Lanka.
*The author is Professor of Botany and former Vice Chancellor of the Eastern University.