The video of humpback whales in Bombay High doing the rounds on social media may have turned out to be fake news (it is from Indonesia, captured in 2019), but it did sound a rather poignant note — the men who spotted the whales can be heard shouting, “Dinosaur, dinosaur!”.
While the inability to correctly identify the animal may be acceptable, it most certainly would not be acceptable if another animal were to meet the fate of the dinosaurs.
Yet, unfortunately, that is the grim reality they are faced with today. Ironically enough, as humans deal with the other rather grim reality of the coronavirus pandemic, nature seems to be thriving once again, as if to say it could very well carry on without us around, and why not indeed — after all, lest we forget, as we often do, we are but a small part of this world.
The air is cleaner, plants are blooming, bees and butterflies are fluttering about, birds are chirping, many animals suddenly seem to have appeared from nowhere, and even if whales were to actually be spotted around Bombay, it might not be such a surprise. I spotted a mongoose playing with a cat in my backyard just the other day, under the watchful gaze of a peacock and the intrigued look of what seemed to be a pair of hornbills perched atop a eucalyptus branch.
Only David Attenborough’s voice could have made that moment better. Yet, what we are experiencing is merely an ephemeral reprieve which might be far too easily forgotten once we are all up and about again. No doubt, it is hard to weigh the colossal human and economic cost of the crisis against anything else. There will also inevitably be a much needed push by governments all over the world to boost industrial and economic activity after the pandemic.
However, in doing so, we must not forget the fact that the environmental cost of increasing human activity over the years is still continuing to rise, whether we stay in lockdown or not. Climate change has not abated, sea levels are still rising and ecosystems are continuing to bear the brunt. In fact, in the longer run, the human and economic costs of an ill-managed environment may far exceed those of this pandemic, if they already have not.
Viewed through this lens, it would appear as if the coronavirus health crisis may in fact pose a great risk to the environment, especially once it is dealt with. Yet, the fleeting sights of our rejuvenated natural surroundings visible during lockdowns have equally presented an opportunity for us to militate against that very risk, for who could have raised awareness better than nature itself ?
Now we must carry these sights with us when we return to normalcy, as a reminder of a lesson learnt, of the bounty of nature around us and of the abundance of our planet that we must preserve. It is equally imperative that Governments, industries and businesses see this as a fitting occasion to bring about long-term structural and policy changes to make sure that once the world gets back on its feet again, it stays there.
The coronavirus outbreak may or may not be nature’s way of fighting back or of reclaiming lost ground, but it must surely stir us to re-think our attitudes and choices towards it. Our reality is inevitably and inescapably linked to the reality of our environment, grim or otherwise. Temporary lockdowns can only give us glimpses of the world we inhabit and the splendour of nature around us, but to allay the years of damage done by human activity requires lasting solutions, starting from the level of the individual.
And yes, it will be imperative to get the economy back in shape and on track once the health crisis is over, but the sustainability of that approach is something that is equally critical, if not more, for otherwise we might soon not have any economy left to save at all. The writer is a practising advocate before the courts at Delhi & Chandigarh.