Muhammad Hamid Siddique
“When we think of the major threats to our national security, the first to come to mind are nuclear proliferation, rogue states and global terrorism. But another kind of threat lurks beyond our shores, one from nature, not humans” Barack Obama on June 5, 2005 during Influenza outbreak. However, one can absolutely relate it to any pandemic that can threaten lives and destabilize governments.
Humans have occupied Earth for centuries now, and brought nothing but havoc and chaos out of selfishness and hegemonies. The way we live is tremendously destructive towards nature, like the way we find our food, the way we make our clothing, the way we create and use our devices — almost everything that we’re doing is detrimental to the health of this organism called Earth. We have destroyed a tenth of Earth’s wilderness in the last 25 years and there may be none left within a century if this trend continues. Around 700 vertebrates have gone extinct and forty per cent of amphibians with a third of coral species, sharks and marine mammals look set to follow. We are destroying the land, the sea, the air, the animals, the trees, and everything really that has life. We are literally poisoning Nature.
But guess what, every action comes back with a reaction and Nature just reacted recently in form of Corona Virus Disease outbreak (COVID-19), as it has since 430 BC, when a plaque passed through Libya, Ethiopia and Egypt, after crossing the Athenian walls causing death of as much as two-thirds of the population. While we fight over natural resources and poison nature by bombs, deforestation, overpopulation and hazardous pollutants, nature brings back balance by such outbreaks. Let me explain this to you with logic. While over 300,000 people are currently affected in 185 countries with over 13,000 deaths by now, COVID-19 is proving to be a healthy dose for climate. With the increasing lockdowns, the new corona virus has been decreasing air pollution, and possibly even saving lives in the process. According to a latest research, the two months of pollution reduction, has probably saved the lives of 4,000 children under 5 and 73,000 adults over 70 in China only. That’s significantly way more than the current global death toll from the virus itself.
I’m sure this is coming to you as surprise, but trust me, this is just tip of the iceberg. With the second largest number of cases occurring in Italy, and the country putting in place strict quarantine measures, satellite data over northern Italy have now shown a significant drop in air pollution – specifically nitrogen dioxide, a gas mainly emitted by cars, trucks, power plants and some industrial plants. Normally, air pollution supersedes mortality in malaria by a factor of 19, violence by a factor of 16, HIV/AIDS by a factor of 9, alcohol by a factor of 45, and drug abuse by a factor of 60 worldwide. Don’t these facts urge you to think; Are we, by destroying nature, actually responsible for COVID-19 outbreak? We cut down the trees, we kill the animals or cage them and send them to markets. We disrupt ecosystems, and we shake viruses loose from their natural hosts. When that happens, they need a new host. Often, we are it. So maybe it is us, the human activities, such as road building, mining, hunting and logging, that is unleashing new terrors today.
Anyway, such a minute silver lining can hardly make up for the devastation by this pandemic. We must defeat it in order to survive, by following preventive measures and instructions issued by governments including social distancing, hand wash and adapting hygienic measures. Let this be an opportunity to shift our societal behavior, and norms, for the better. I wonder if this outbreak could be a rehearsal for the future and a much needed reboot, as a gift from nature. You may find substantial evidence and appealing justification on this perspective in my next article. Anyway, this time when Earth wins over COVID-19, let’s learn to coexist and keep the balance.
The author is PhD Scholar in Department of Biochemistry, QAU Also serving as Visiting Faculty in QAU Currently pursuing Research in Cancer Molecular Therapeutics. Islamabad, Pakistan