Sustainability in the Era of COVID-19
The term sustainability which has long been used by environmental movement, has taken on a whole new meaning as we contend with the current COVID-19 pandemic. Much of humanity is now fully engaged in responding to the multiple challenges posed by the Novel Coronavirus to our health, our economies and indeed our whole way of life. It is useful to note that this crisis has led millions of people around the world to collaborate together to confront this global challenge.
A History of the Environmental Movement
Since the movement began, environmentalists have studied and warned about numerous threats to our planet and species. Rachel Carson’s pioneering 1962 “Silent Spring” was the first book for the general public to explore a specific man-made environmental threat, the danger to wildlife from the widespread use of DDT in agriculture. This seminal publication became a key cornerstone to the launching the ecological sustainability movement. More specifically, Rachel Carson’s book led directly to the ban of this dangerous pesticide globally, a major environmental success story.
Canadian and International Environmental Responses Success Stories
Similarly, The Club of Rome’s 1972 book “Limits to Growth” launched a broad international discussion about of the destructive impact of human activities to our atmosphere, water and soils. One of the many positive outcomes of this study was the exploration by scientists and political leaders of factors that led to the degradation of our environment. As a result of this new focus on scientific research, the depletion of earth’s ozone layer came into focus for the first time. This in turn led Canada’s Prime Minister Brian Mulroney to convene a global environmental conference to discuss how the progressive loss of the ozone layer was impacting Earth’s arctic regions. This world congress concluded with the signing of the precedent-setting1989 Montreal Protocol to protect Earth’s vital ozone layer. This accord controlling ozone-depleting substances (ODS) is in force till today, which has resulted in dramatic reversal of this global threat. This success was followed by the convening by Canada’s Maurice Strong of the 1992 United Nations sponsored Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit. This global conference became the inaugural prototype of series of international meetings about the environment resulting in multiple environmental accords. Most importantly, the 2016 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Paris Accord on greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) is the international agreement that most nation are using to guide their efforts in the global fight against climate change.
Viewing COVID-19 Pandemic as an Environmental Threat
The reason that it is beneficial to recall this history of the environment today is to recognize that our species actually has a reasonably good track record over the past several decades of recognizing and then effectively responding to global ecological dangers. It should be recognized that in many ways pandemics are just another type of environmental threat. We have recalled that when it chooses to do so, humanity has the capability, expertise and experience to understand and overcome major global dangers. Everyone recognizes that COVID-19 is indeed a very serious threat to each of us individually and all of us collectively. We should also recognize that the history of the environmental movement demonstrates that concerted global efforts can defeat major environmental challenges like the COVID-19 threat we now face.
COVID-19 Lessons for Today
Serious historians acknowledge that although COVID-19 is definitely the worst outbreak in recent memory, unfortunately humanity has experienced numerous pandemics over the centuries. One very positive difference is that today we have wonderful technological tools to mitigate the worst aspects of the disease, although far more are needed including an effective vaccine. The paramount technology we are all using to fight this outbreak is our modern global communications capabilities including the internet which allows people across the globe to receive up-to-date information about the pandemic’s progress. Even more importantly, our global communications network is helping to broadcast best practices to mitigate and possibly contain the COVID-19 threat. Equally heartening is the reality that widespread advances in scientific and engineering research and development capabilities, including in Canada, is beginning to generate even stronger countermeasures to COVID-19. We can be comforted that there is a global community of cooperation that is empowering us to collectively identify and deploy innovative new solutions as they are discovered and commercialized.
Leveraging the Lesson of Science Fiction
Finally, many environmentalists seem also to be fans of science fiction. This body of speculative imagination encourages us to envision a future far better than the present – and the overcoming of all types of challenges. This forward focus is actually a very positive thing because it helps us to individually and collectively to find the energy and creativity to envision the solutions to today’s COVID-19 crisis.
More than ever we need to think of our whole planet of one vast interconnected family – a global village. At the same time, we need to become more vigilant than ever about the health and safety of our families, our neighbourhoods and our communities. Those active in the environmental movement instantly recall the creed of the movement, a motto that should apply to everyone on the planet in reflecting on and responding to our COVID-19. More than ever it is the time to “think global and act local”.
Leon Wasser, MBA, P.Eng.
Wasser Resources Inc.