Tuesday, January 19

The Anthropause in the age of the Anthropocene

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Taking stock of the beauty of nature in our gardens – wild orchids and heliconia.

LET us hope and pray that this New Year brings us all better health and happiness than we received in 2020. We have, however, discovered that we need global cooperation to monitor the outbreak of such infectious diseases as Covid-19, with scientists working worldwide to develop a suitable vaccine. On reflection, we have learned in schools, universities, and businesses that distance learning and virtual meetings are now with us and need to be used in the future for business purposes thus reducing our need to travel.

The ongoing pandemic has much altered our world as we once knew it. Wildlife has gained more space and fresh air and, as we have witnessed, in a dramatic reduction in air pollution and in fossil fuel use. The air we breathe in cities and towns is much fresher as vehicle movements have been forcibly restricted but what of the future?

Demise of tourism

It is extremely hard to estimate the impact of Covid-19 on tourism and even more difficult to overestimate the impact of foreign visitors on those regions of the globe that are heavily dependent on such for their income. The Eastern Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak, on the very special island of Borneo, have suffered much.

According to the World Travel and Tourism Council, over 197 million jobs could be lost worldwide through travel barriers and anti-travel governmental advisory statements and necessary quarantine measures. In many countries redundancies of hotel staff already exist, for such countries cannot afford furlough schemes.

Airlines have also been affected with many European short haul companies near the state of bankruptcy and with considerable redundancies. In Europe, there has been a back-up in the growth of domestic tourism in safe-distancing hotels, mostly used by the retired age groups or during the autumn school holidays in out of normal tourist season times. Airlines have been extremely responsible in their choice of flights between domestic and international sectors thereby reducing jet emissions by over 60 per cent and thus impacting climate change.

Taking stock

Many countries are moving their focus to domestic tourism. This could prove to be something that is environmentally better and of economic benefit. Such schemes such as considerably reduced national park entry fees for nationals and requesting private tourism providers to reduce their prices, yet meeting governmental Covid-19 safety demands, could prove beneficial.

In many countries the rural population has much to offer visitors in ‘homestays’ and, in farming communities, farm tour packages can be offered to learn about traditional farming pursuits. Supporting conservation efforts through tourism and providing extra income to rural communities is a trigger for thought! Undoubtedly a kinder more sustainable form of tourism would be beneficial to local economies.

Wildlife sanctuaries have also been hit by Covid-19.

Biodiversity

The various restriction orders that have sensibly been imposed by governments globally have made us think, with reduced incomes, about how our personal electricity and water usage bills have increased. Yes, we have seen a reduction in our car fuel bills and office electricity and air-conditioning bills with also reduced carbon dioxide emissions and cleaner skies but what of wildlife?

The dawn chorus of birds in rural and suburban areas has been a delight to hear not drowned out by passing vehicle movements. Animals have stealthily crept into urban areas as they are no longer thrown titbits from passing cars and have more frequently scavenged from domestic waste bins as we now more regularly eat at home. There is even more urgency in washing one’s hands thoroughly for dealing with waste disposal bins and garden refuse, which may harbour many forms of bacteria.

The Covid-19 virus came from animals. It is thought that it originated from fruit bats affecting bush meat. Primates, rodents, and bats have long been investigated as important groups in the transmission of zoonotic diseases to humans as they share many pathogens with us.

Our sanctuaries for the rehabilitation of unfortunate primates have been severely hit by the lack of visitor’s incomes. Orang-utan and sun bear sanctuaries have suffered considerable losses of income in Borneo. A New Year’s resolution may be to dip deeper into our pockets and send a donation to one’s nearest wildlife reserve or sanctuary.

Climate change impacts

Typhoons are now more frequent occurrences in Southeast Asia. In November last year, Typhoon Goni devastated the Philippines and Vietnam with winds of up to 309km per hour bringing exceptional rainfall. The intensity of typhoons has shown a marked upward trend owing to climate change.

Sadly, the USA had under the Trump administration backed out of the reduction in carbon dioxide emission scheme to assist climate change. The Biden administration has fortunately resolved to reinstate America’s agreement for richer nations to partially compensate developing nations for the destruction inflicted by a warmer climate.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP26) is due to held in Glasgow, Scotland, in November this year. Let’s hope that it not again overtaken by Covid-19.

Conservationists have predicted that if we continue to behave in the way that we do towards the natural world, the transmission of zoonotic diseases is inevitable. We never seem to get a grip ahead of time but we always seem to be reacting to the moment.

Overcrowded cities have changed people’s attitudes and more and more of us than ever before, owing to this dreadful pandemic, have appreciated that access to the countryside and its abundant nature is important for our mental well-being. Covid-19 has made us pause to take stock of the beauty of nature even if it has only been in our home gardens and surroundings.

May 2021 herald a gradual economic recovery and good health for us all as inhabitants of planet Earth, including the preservation of our natural vegetation and its animal occupants.