COVIDian Reflections: Nature Does When Man Refuses to Do

Many of you would have heard about the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. It was an agreement under the guidance of the United Nations to cut down global greenhouse gas emissions to keep the increase in atmospheric temperature below 2 °C above the pre-industrial levels, with a long-term goal of making it 1.5 °C. The agreement also envisaged reduction of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 20%. Countries like China and India insisted and succeeded to include per capita basis quota for greenhouse gas emission in the agreement. With Turkey and Iran not joining, 189 nations signed the agreement on December 21, 2015. President Trump pulled out of the agreement later, saying that the agreement was economically disadvantageous to the USA. The best joke about this agreement is that it was not binding on the signatories and that each could fix its own annual emission targets. As it is not binding, nobody knows which country is doing what on this agreement.

The Mother Nature does when man refuses to do! The World Meteorological Organization, or W.M.O., said on April 22, 2020, that the global carbon emissions were expected to come down by 6% this year because of the pandemic as reduced burning of fossil fuels arising out of low factory-activities, lower transportation needs, etc. The W.M.O. says the target of keeping the increase in atmospheric temperature to 1.5 °C above the pre-industrial levels can be achieved if annual emission levels go down to 7%. Even with the Paris Agreement, the governments were not serious in containing the greenhouse gas emissions. So nature decided to take matters into its own hands and act, forcing the governments around the world to close down factories and transportations that brought down the emission levels — reduction in greenhouse gas emissions that they were hesitant to do.

The W.M.O. also said that such sustained level of lower emissions were needed to bring down the atmospheric temperature. Now, look at what the World Health Organisation, or W.H.O., said on April 22, 2020; it warned us that the virus would be with us for a long time. Don’t you see a linkage between what the W.H.O. and W.M.O.said? The W.M.O.: Needs sustainable reduction in greenhouse gas emissions to the level of 7% to achieve the temperature-reduction target. The W.H.O.: The virus will be with us for a long time. Incidentally, both statements came out on the same day! So the pandemic is an action by nature when man failed to act, isn’t it so? 

How many among us noticed the importance of July 29, 2019 ? Very few if not none. Right?  It was the Earth Overshoot Day. The day is calculated by Global Footprint Network. Let me explain what this day is if you are unfamiliar with the term. Earth Overshoot Day is the day by which humans used up their allocation of natural resources that earth can replenish in one year. Those resources are clean water, soil, clean air, carbon sequestration, etc. In other words, we had exhausted the resources for the whole year by the 7th month of the year. It means that we had used approximately 70% more resources than what nature could produce for us in 2019, so we overshot the ecological withdrawal allowed by and possible for nature. We had been doing this for many years: The Overshoot days were August 2 and August 1 respectively in 2017 and 2018. This ecological overshoot is overconsumption. 

Why the overconsumption? In his bestselling book, “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind,”  Yuval Noah Harari says that one of the biggest inventions of man is “credit.” Credit is the present utilization of your future income. Credit opens up a magical world where you do not have to be rich to lead the lifestyle of a rich man but have to only show that you currently possess the prospect for a future income. It gives you (false?) courage in the form of Equated Monthly Installment, or E.M.I., to take bank loan in order to do things like possessing a second home/farmhouse for occasional use. Credit gives you extravagant audacity to buy a second car when one car is suffice for you and your family. When you can talk to only person at a time, why do you need two mobile phones or dual-SIM mobile handset?  Many telecommunications service providers give zero-interest credit to buy the latest iPhones, with E.M.I. facility, and I know many people who used such credit facility to replace their existing iPhones with the latest entrant though their present-income did not allow them to do so. You even bankroll differently-fashioned ornaments to suit different occasions! And this kind of credit-powered borrowed luxuries are innumerable.

What effect has credit had on many of you? You overused credit to overconsume — over consumed the natural resources in the forms of your second home, second car, second mobile phone, etc. How did you over-consume? The volume of clean air and clean water that got polluted while producing your second car, second home and second mobile handset; the pressure that your second home, second car and second mobile phone put on the soil in the form of minerals and metals used; and the additional carbon footprints that arose from the production and use of your second home, second car and second phone. When millions and millions indulge in such extravagant overconsumption, it is natural that the resources, which nature can replenish in a year, will run out by mid-year or early. But, how long can nature sustain this overdraft from man? Just like the credit-fueled bubble bursts in property market, commodity markets, etc., this overdraft-bubble will also have to go bust one day. Nature did it now! You are homebound now, with your second home lying forlorn, possibly rotting with none to take care; let alone your second car, even the first one is lying idle; not able to recharge even your one phone with credit, etc. All those designer jewelry and the overflowing designer wear are lying despondent for want of use. Nature has locked mankind in, so the rest of her creation can revive and bounce back.

What do you expect to be the Earth Overshoot Day in 2020? December 31? Since humanity is home-confined, instead of 70% of overshoot as in 2019, will it be 20% undershoot in 2020? Mind you that nature did not wait till July, as it happened in 2019, for the Overshoot Day but began the work in December 2019 itself and halted man in his tracks in April itself for 2020.

Why do we make mistakes? We make mistakes because of two reasons: we do not know how to do what is to be done and we learnt to do things in an incorrect way. The solution for the first reason is to learn how to do, but when it comes to the second, how do we know what we learnt was the incorrect — wrong — way to do? This will happen when someone shows us reasonably, logically and convincingly that the way we were doing things was wrong — completely not in alignment with the way it ought to have been — and that we have to unlearn what we learnt and relearn the correct way. Now that nature is showing THE WAYS, will we unlearn and relearn?

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