Looking past the pandemic - UNLESS

It may be difficult to make sense of the situation we find ourselves in. There are so many unknowns, risks and fears surrounding our everyday lives. And yet in the midst of it all there is good happening. Positives that many of us never could have imagined. Positives that many would never have thought to be so incredibly valuable. While we’re being locked up in our houses, communicating with everyone through a computer screen, the world outside is changing in big and small ways. The question is; when we emerge from this pandemic, how can we entrench the positive changes that are taking place?

What we couldn’t stop before

While we’ve all been aware of the catastrophic consequences of pollution and carbon emissions for decades, getting people, governments and industry to actually do anything about it has been like pulling teeth. It’ll be too difficult, cost too much, have too great an impact on economies, they said. Then corona happened. Industries were told to shut down, people were told to stay home, and, magically, emissions dropped to levels not seen in 50 years’ showing not only is it possible, but perhaps not as difficult as we thought.

Now there is absolutely no debating that the economic impact of the pandemic and subsequent lockdown has been catastrophic. There isn’t a business or industry that hasn’t been adversely impacted. But what it has highlighted is that perhaps we’ve been focusing on the wrong “impossible” all along.

Both the United Nations and World Economic Forum have published reports describing how covid-19 is merely highlighting how inter-related economic and environmental issues really are. In China, pollution levels dropped by almost 85% in more than 336 cities within just 2 months when a lockdown was enforced. Similarly in the UK emissions have reportedly dropped to levels experienced 20 years ago. Additionally, due to lower pollution levels being dramatically reduced, solar generation has gone up exponentially. Mid-April it was reported that the UK hit a new record for more than 18 days of coal free power generation. Scientists are celebrating the gains, but are concerned they will be lost as soon as industries restart…  Unless….

The message from 50 years ago we missed

Anyone familiar with Dr Seuss’ children’s story The Lorax, knows the message of the story. It is summed up in the one word carved on the platform on which the Lorax stood – UNLESS. The story tells of how when commerce and industry expand at the cost of the environment, everyone suffers… Unless someone is willing to do something about it.  Interestingly, the story was published in 1971, almost 50 years ago, and the world failed to heed the warnings. The same as they’ve failed to heed the warnings of environmental scientists for decades since. But maybe 2020 will be the year this changes. A year where the planet has been hit with massive wildfires and floods and now a global pandemic in only the first 4 months, maybe we will start listening and realise that we are the UNLESS.

Unless habits change

As horrible as this pandemic has been, it is bringing about human change and realisation. People are coming out of their bubble, having to look outside of themselves and their situation. Neighbours who barely knew each other before are now getting excited about greeting one another on garbage day. In supporting efforts to reduce social contact, people are limiting trips to the shops. They’re taking a closer look at what they have and how they can use it, rather than just going to the shops and buying whatever they think they need, and then wasting half of it. In an effort to optimise opportunities to get out, people are walking to the shops instead of driving. Now these are habits worth keeping.

The World Economic Forum makes the statement that health, economics stability and nature are connected. And that while we have the opportunity to reflect, the solutions for economic recovery have to take this into account, otherwise we will be no better off than before. We’ve talked about the circular economy, but now’s the time to put it into practice. The rubbish is piling up, some people would view that as valuable resources. What can we do with it that’ll help stimulate industry, create jobs and provide something useful to society? We’ve talked about renewables. Now’s the time, when fossil fuel prices have bottomed out for the renewable industry to make a real and lasting impact.

For all the government incentives and promises, the reality is that UNLESS individuals take a stake in rebuilding a cleaner, more sustainable, commercial future, there isn’t going to be much of one. Even in these difficult times, opportunity exists and everyone can channel their expertise into something that’s useful and beneficial. Will your hand be the one that plants a seed?