Prior to COVID-19, the movement against single use plastic was gaining traction through various initiatives both by our national and local governments. There were ordinances enacted by local governments to ban single-use plastics in groceries and palengkes. Various businesses have initiated their own gimmicks to curb plastic use. Products, especially perishables, were also being repackaged to become more “earth-friendly”.
Then COVID-19 happened.
I live alone and, from time to time, I have to go out and have myself checked in the hospital due to my failing health. Managing my own small household without anyone else to rely on which means having to prepare my own meals, do my own grocery, settle my own bills. The mandatory lockdown and quarantine due to COVID-19 made my existence doubly solitary and doubly challenging.
My usual option of dining out to save myself from cooking and eating the same leftover for days have been replaced by food take outs and deliveries. Online shopping has kept me preoccupied aside from work due to boredom for having limited options to interact with other people. Going out means having to don full protective gear to lessen the chance of catching the coronavirus.
In where I stay in Mandaluyong, the garbage trucks do their rounds almost everyday to collect garbage. And every single day, I go out and dump at least two big grocery bags filled with different kinds of plastics and paper cartons from my food take outs, online purchases, and COVID-19 protective paraphernalia.
Imagine if this same lifestyle is kept by more people during this time.
Out of Sight, Out of Mind
While getting strict on social distancing, washing of hands, and following other health and safety protocols to keep the spread of COVID-19, we are getting too relaxed in our efforts to mitigate the environmental crisis.
Some of us have thrown our care and concern for the environment out the window in the name of survival.
Greta Thunberg, who has become an inspiration for us to live eco-friendly, has been silenced in the media and in our own heads.
Now, we see single use face masks unscrupulously disposed of in sidewalks and esteros and we don’t give a flying f*ck. Most of our personal protective equipment (PPE) are made of plastic and we don’t see any effort or initiative to find other suitable, eco-friendly materials to replace them. Who cares whether these plastics all end up again in our seas and landfills.
These scenarios are just on the personal level.
Economies have taken a hard hit because of the pandemic and governments all over the world are doing all they can either to revive or keep theirs afloat. Governments (most probably except the Philippines) have been focused on addressing the pandemic that all its resources are funneled to the health crisis response.
While everyone, including the government, is busy just trying to survive, causes such as the protection of the environment are all placed on forgotten at the moment. Enforcement of environmental protection laws and restrictions are currently relaxed, personal advocacies to limit waste are forgotten, and businesses and industries are left to their own devices.
No one is watching out for the environment that it remains vulnerable and subject to exploitation of the greedy privileged.
We may be saving ourselves from the pandemic now, but we are still endangering our existence in the near future because of the collapse of our planet. Many are claiming that the pandemic could have been nature’s revenge for our abuses. The current status of our planet combined with our lifestyle could have been the best backdrop for the emergence and spread of viruses and other illnesses such as COVID-19.
In a report by the Guardian in April, the pandemic was responsible for three out of every thousand deaths globally.
It is interesting to note that as early as 2003, the United Nations, through the World Health Organization, reported that global warming was also responsible for three out of every thousand deaths every year. According to the WHO, this was already a conservative estimate and deaths due to global-warming-related-illnesses such as heat exposure, malaria, dengue, malnutrition, and diarrhea could be much higher.
If such is the case, why don’t we respond to climate change with the same intensity as we respond to the coronavirus pandemic? While the extinction of the entire planet is much more alarming than the coronavirus to spur us into action, the current pandemic may also find its cause from our environment’s drastic destruction and cure from our efforts to reverse such activities.
The pandemic has made us nonchalant about our lifestyle regardless of its being highly wasteful and detrimental to the environment. Our actions just reflect the same nonchalance in the level of governments and industries.
There is more than enough reason for us to care and there are more than enough risks involved for us to be alarmed and to act. While problems such as the pandemic and the climate crisis are of huge scale, our personal awareness and effort to bring about solutions may be dismissed as minuscule and insignificant. However, in this age and time, we have the means to amplify our voice and multiply our effort to make an impact.
We have to give Greta Thunberg her platform back and, this time, we have to join her, or else, our existence would be doubly solitary and doubly challenging for much graver reasons.
The Natural Resources and Environment Law students of the Far Eastern University Institute of Law under Atty. Galahad Pe Benito will run a webinar on 28 August 2020 on the impact of human activity especially during the COVID-19 pandemic on the climate crisis. The webinar will be guested by international environmental rights champion Mari Margil who is the Executive Director of the Center for Democratic and Environmental Rights and the Associate Director of Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund.
To join the webinar, you can email email@example.com or text +639989791887.