All our future financial and economic systems should value fixing of broken relationships with nature to minimise the potential risks of such pandemics in times to come
Lockdown, social distancing, restricted train services, no flights, taxis, job losses, salary cuts and no business! Could we, the so-called superior species, inhabiting “Mother Earth”, empowered with knowledge, research and innovations, ever have imagined in our wildest dreams such a scenario of hardships, horrors, threats and uncertainties at the beginning of a new decade? Whether the global crisis brought on by COVID-19 is rooted in the disruption of ecosystems, illegal wildlife trade and so on, or embedded in the race for world economic supremacy through some sort of biological warfare, is hard to tell. Debates will continue without conclusive evidence. However, while rebuilding the ruptured economy and redefining the pathways for future development, we need to remember that an invisible virus has the power to stop us in our tracks. It has crippled the economies of the world, curbed lifestyles, disrupted supply chains, threatened our very survival by bringing large sections of populations in all geographies under the threat of extreme poverty and hunger. It has widened social inequalities, triggered reverse migration and emerging social unrests of different dimensions.
However, due to the pandemic our rivers are cleaner. We are breathing clean air. The sky is a clear blue in cities that have not seen it like this in many years. We can actually see the stars now and snow-clad mountains are visible from distant cities after decades.
All of a sudden we have peacocks dancing in the streets, an increasing number of birds chirping in the trees and surprise visits from precious wildlife in cities and towns all over the world.
As we wait for a breakthrough by the scientific community working hard to come out with a vaccine or drug to combat the virus, we have ample time to think about life. What future do we want? What are the lessons learnt from this outbreak? Are we willing to take responsibility for our action in bringing this virus upon the world?
Recent pandemics are a direct consequence of human activity, particularly our global financial and economic systems that value economic growth at any cost. The Secretary, Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, CK Mishra, has shot off a letter to the Ministry of Corporate Affairs, emphasising that, “There is a consensus among scientists that a rise in zoonotic diseases like Nipah, Avian Influenza, Zika and Coronavirus is linked to the loss of biodiversity and forests. Hence we are urging corporates to invest in biodiversity conservation.”
The vast illegal wildlife trade, humanity’s excessive intrusion into nature, unsustainable extraction of natural resources and extreme anthropogenic pollution sources are to be blamed for the disconnect.
So what seeds are to be sown now for a sustainable era? Certainly, we want a cleaner, greener future and a more equitable world for everyone. We need to halt further destruction of nature. Future financial and economic systems should value fixing of broken relationships with nature to minimise potential risks of such pandemics in times to come. COVID-19 also forces us to look into the way we develop our cities; the way we grow our food; the way we develop businesses; the way we respect and value nature; the way we conserve species; the way we degrade natural resources; the way we consume; the way we recycle waste and the way we inhabit and care for planet Earth. We need to fix our broken relationship with nature.
During and post the global pandemic, businesses in all geographies will be striving to ensure their short and long-term viability. While their immediate efforts will focus on revival, renewal and reconstruction, companies must also continue to think and act for the long-term. Recovery and reconstruction packages and new business models involving multi-trillion dollars will be rolled out. New normals in terms of business opportunities and practices will emerge. In any version of a sustainable future, there will be a fundamental need for companies to integrate circular economy principles. Respective industries have to introspect and redefine their role in valuing, restoring and protecting the natural world on which we all depend. Sectors involving agriculture, airlines, transport, fossil fuel-dependent energy sectors, mining and so on, need to adopt ecological ethics and morality in business practices.
Self-compliant and redefined business practices should pledge for zero pollution of water resources, ambient air, efficient waste recycling, land degradation neutrality and adhering to the strictest environmental standards. Citizens also need to be responsible by adopting sustainable consumption lifestyles that include transport, food, mobility, housing aimed at minimising our carbon footprints.
A global “one health” approach needs to be broadened on the principle of “human health can be ensured only through care of nature, Mother Earth and the surrounding ecosystems’ health.” The health of people is intimately connected to the health of wildlife, the health of livestock and the health of the environment. It would be great if we could at least preserve what is left of nature.
Headlines like, “Planet Earth is under repair”, “Mother Earth is under shutdown” also remind us of our responsibility to ensure a safer, cleaner and habitable planet for our survival, otherwise nature has its own ways to address and punish defaulters. While nature has tremendous destructive powers, it has immense healing powers, too. Protecting nature is an investment in our future.
“I am not polluting.” “I will not degrade nature.” “I will love wildlife.” “I will not allow others to harm nature.” These should be the guiding principles of ecological ethics for everyone. Humanity has to coexist with nature.
Whatever new narrative and norms will emerge post-Coronavirus, the above basic principles of ecological ethics and care for nature need to be integrated into everything that we do. This means all stakeholders, including policymakers, governance frameworks, businesses, communities in all geographies, need to pledge for a sustainable future and a better reconstructed world to avoid probable risks of re-emergence of such pandemics.
(Writer: Vivek Saxena; Courtesy: The Pioneer)