By JESSICA PAG-IWAYAN
Illustration by ARIANA MARALIT
Since the local government imposed a Luzon-wide community quarantine, requiring everyone to stay inside their homes and limit their activities outside, in an attempt to stop the transmission of the 2019 novel coronavirus, social media has been flooded by scenic images of a greener earth.
In a Facebook post, Johair Siscar Addang, shared photos of clear view of the Sierra Madre taken from the roof deck of a condo in Pasig. The images showed a smog-free Metro Manila’s skyline, with the Sierra Madre Mountain range as the background.
Known as the “backbone of Luzon” the is the longest mountain range in the country. It runs from Cagayan in the North and to Quezon Province in the south. Johair’s beautiful images instantly become viral.
Meanwhile, veteran TV journalist Raffy Tima posted photos on Facebook of the 1,821-foot Memorial of the Mt. Samat Shrine in Bataan, except these weren’t taken anywhere near Bataan. These shots, taken during the sunset, were from the GMA Network Bldg. in Quezon City.
Covid-19 vs Earth Healing
Netizens claim that these images are just some of the good effects of Covid-19’s community quarantine to our environment. Some even claimed that the pandemic is the universe’s way of healing the earth.
In an exclusive interview with Manila Bulletin Lifestyle, John Leo Algo, program manager of Living Laudato si Philippines and Climate Action for Sustainability Initiative (KASALI), clarified whether this community quarantine could really benefit the environment.
The community quarantine, he says, is indeed giving Mother Nature a time to breathe, even for just a short while.
“The main positive impact of the actions against Covid-19 worldwide is expected to be the same in the Philippines: emissions of greenhouse gases and air pollutants will decrease, as people are expected to stay at their homes, and economic activities will decrease,” he shares. “Even for a month, Mother Nature can breathe a little better than the norm these days.”
It can be recalled that photos of Venice canal with clear water since nationwide lockdown in Italy was implemented also went viral.
With mass transportation suspended, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions decrease. “One benefit for nature should be lower GHG emissions from our activities. While the Philippines is not a huge emitter of GHG, the urgency of reducing global emissions to prevent more catastrophic climate change makes even just a month’s worth of mitigation a win,” he explains. “We need to remember that climate change does not only affect human communities but natural ecosystems, as well. Furthermore, since the sources of CO2 are usually the same sources of air pollution, most of which come from transportation, the quarantine should also reduce emissions of harmful pollutants like particulate matter during this time.”
Covid-19 is an environmental issue
Despite the good the community quarantine brings to our air in particular, John clarified that Covid-19 is also an environmental issue. The Philippines’ current situation also shows that we’re not ready when it comes to handling this type of environmental crisis.
“The Covid-19 pandemic is as much of an issue about the environment as it is about public health. It signifies that quick fixes, which many of our political leaders prefer to implement, will never be enough to address long-standing environmental issues at the global or local level,” he says. “There are many gaps in our current system, such as lack of coordination between national and local government units, inconsistencies in existing policy implementation, and lack of participation of non-government stakeholders on managing environmental crises.”
Assuming all goes well, the extended community quarantine is expected to end on April 14. John reminds everyone that our limited movements benefit the air, but bigger environmental issues are still here.
“Let us remember that once the one month has passed, the problem of plastic pollution, polluted air and water, climate change, and other issues are still there,” he says. “Poverty and inequality, which are among the many factors that make many Filipinos vulnerable to diseases or disasters, remain. As individuals, we must change—and so should our leaders, our institutions, our society. We need to change together.”
Asked about the current air quality in Metro Manila since the community quarantine started, John said that due to current situation, it is hard for non-government organizations to gather data, case studies, and to monitor different sites.
“We need to respect what science says here in the Philippines instead of fake news. Instead of merely reacting to a crisis as it worsens, we need to adopt a preventive, precautionary approach to mitigate potential epidemics and disasters,” John says. “We also need to start living in harmony with nature, as part of Mother Nature, instead of treating it as our property to exploit.”
He also called the attention of the national government and big businesses. “Invest in more resilient, equitable, and sustainable systems, and communities that allow for social and economic development while preserving environmental health,” he says. “Every time we delay action for our environment, for the climate, [it] becomes more costly for current and future generations.”