Updated: Jul 24
The daily grind has kept Mother Nature in a constant state of sickness. This was our everyday normal. With the extended ECQ, J asks: How is the "new normal" affecting the environment?
From My Balcony: Before and After
The first picture below was taken October 2019 from my balcony at around 6am. The next one was taken May 1 at around 5pm. See the difference? Yup, the latter picture actually shows a clearer skyline and the view of the Sierra Madre mountains.
My daily mornings pre-coronavirus include waking up to an early alarm (at least 2.5 hours before work) and seeing car headlights and taillights lining up the various highways below. The sounds of car horns and morning traffic jam accompany me as well. It doesn't get better as I commute back home. I usually ride a bus at around 5pm and arrive home after 45 to 90 minutes, depending on the flow of traffic. The normal day back then involved crowded cities, long queues in transport terminals, heavily polluted air, and lack of personal space in bus rides.
With the extension of the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) in Metro Manila and other selected regions, I've encountered a "new normal". I wake up later than usual since I was blessed to operate on a work-from-home setup for my current employer. In our building, a convenience store is open to service our food and other basic necessities without us setting a foot out of the premises. In other words, I am privileged.
The need to participate in the daily grind softened as only the frontliners and essential workforce are required or allowed to go out. And even then, most of these employees work in shifts to lessen the likelihood of exposure to the virus.
But, after all this, what kind of "normal" will I go back to?
Global Impact of the COVID Spell
The COVID-19 pandemic changed our lives in so many ways. Over 3 million confirmed cases and 234,000 deaths have been reported worldwide as of this writing. Stock prices fell drastically. Currencies weakened. Economic growth indicators are at an all-time low. Local 2020 GDP forecast from ADB is currently at 2.0% while IMF "project[s] global growth in 2020 to fall to -3.0%" With restricted trade and lower consumption amid the ECQ, economic growth is expected to slow down.
But the unexpected effect was the environmental impact of the virus.
Venice Canal waters became clearer and inhabited again by small fishes
Decline in transport emissions contribute to cleaner air
Sustaining Mother Nature
As much as I would like to encourage looking at the bright side, claiming that the virus is Mother Nature's way of resetting is just cruel especially to those whose lives have been changed by the pandemic. The positive impact of COVID-19 to the environment is an unintended consequence due to our intention to flatten the curve. Since our actions - staying at home, wearing masks, etc. - are driven by the goal to prevent further contagion, solving the climate crisis this way may not provide the best fix.
The United Nations identified 17 Sustainable Development Goals which hopefully shall be achieved by the next decade. Seven of these goals directly affect the climate crisis we're facing:
Goal 6 - Clean Water and Sanitation
Goal 7 - Affordable and Clean Energy
Goal 11 - Sustainable Cities and Communities
Goal 12 - Responsible Consumption and Production
Goal 13 - Climate Action
Goal 14 - Life Below Water
Goal 15 - Life on Land
For me, out of all the development goals indicated above, what resonated with the recent quarantine is building sustainable cities and communities. Prior to COVID-19, I could not imagine people on their bikes or simply walking to go to places. Working from home was not an option (for major industries) even for people who might have difficulties commuting on a normal day such as people with diverse abilities or PWDs.
Goal 11 focuses on access to "safe, affordable, and sustainable transport systems" and public spaces as well as construction of sustainable buildings. COVID-19 forced numerous companies to digitize quickly and enable their employees to work from home. It shattered the idea that better job opportunities can mostly be found in Metro Manila.
It's interesting to me how industries can immediately adapt to the "new normal" when faced with a global pandemic, but refuse to find alternative ways to do business in the spirit of preserving the environment. In our recent interview with Roanna Medina, my key takeaway is that when an issue is personal or close to one's heart, that's when it really drives change. But with the "new normal", what kind of offices or homes do we go back to? Is it the time to consider environmental problems as critical as global pandemics? There are 10 more years left on our deadline to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Whether it's waste segregation, living a sustainable lifestyle, or planting crops in your balcony or yard, do it. Contribute now. Start today. In our own ways, let's make protecting the environment part of the "new normal".
This post is sponsored by Simula PH.