What is still only a matter of weeks ago the UK, following many other nations across the world, put itself into lockdown. A semi-hibernation period to deal with one of the worst scenarios it has faced since the Second World War.
Since the lockdown we have seen amazing acts of bravery, innovation and hard work by frontline workers, medical staff, care workers, key service personnel, key businesses and the general public to prevent an already terrible situation reach unimaginable levels. We all owe a huge amount of gratitude to those people, organisations and systems put in place to protect and save lives in a situation that could have easily spiralled out of control.
As I write this there are still many countries on the wrong side of the coronavirus curve. I wish for them to combat the virus as quickly as possible too so we can see a global end to this pandemic.
Yet there is light at the end of the tunnel for many. At the time of writing the UK is still in lockdown but with increasing levels of freedoms, plans from the government to kickstart the economy and get the nation back to normality. We’re not there yet and we cannot be complacent in what will be a long road of recovery.
But it is this question of normality - the new normal - which is playing on our minds and a central topic in our video conversations with friends, family and colleagues alike. ‘What will the new normal be?’. Rather, the question should be - ‘What do we want the new normal to be?’ Will we ever have such an opportunity again to create a new normal not only for our daily lives, but for the planet’s health.
Without wanting to sound dismissive of the still very real threat the world is facing and the many people and organisations working hard to contain and eliminate, there is still another (often) invisible killer on the horizon. One which, as a planet, we still have a long way and a lot of work to do to flatten its curve. The climate crisis.
As the Covid-19 crisis was still yet to unfold, Australia was suffering unimaginable devastation in the form of forest fires. Huge swathes of the countryside were destroyed. Homes and livelihoods were reduced to ashes. Natural habitats burnt beyond recognition or existence. Who could forget the stomach-churning images of the remains of charred koala bears? This was followed up by yet more devastation in the form of floods to a nation that was numb with pain and only just beginning to pick up the pieces of the fires. Sadly, both these events are becoming ever more regular and extreme in Australia, and many other places around the world. Climate change is a dangerous pandemic too.
You can draw parallels between the rapid rise and spread of COVID-19 ravaging the health of humanity and the equally relatively rapid rise in global temperatures, greenhouse emissions and sea levels that we have seen over the last century.
Global temperatures are projected to increase by at least 1.5 degrees by 2050. Rising temperatures are expected to raise hydrological variability, increasing the risk of drought, water stress, wildfires, and floods, and noticeably change the climate. There is also research suggesting rising temperatures can bring with it more disease. The summer of 2019 saw the first reported case of West Nile virus infection as far north as Germany. Researchers have already projected that the West Nile virus is likely to spread by 2025 and to spread further by 2050.
It was World Environment Day on 5th June. A date many people will not have been aware of. However reduced transport and energy usage have already had a significant impact on the environment. Many cities have experienced visibly cleaner air. Central London roadside locations have seen a fall in daily average of the dangerous NO2 of around 40 per cent. We’ve all seen pictures of the almost immediate impact of Venice’s canals cleaning to reveal glistening blue waters again.
What precisely do we take forward with us after the pandemic? What do we leave behind? During this time of semi-hibernation for many there is no better time than now to reflect and reset. To look forward toward a future we want to see and one that has the planet’s health at its heart. The social media hashtag #buildbackbetter is gaining traction and it is a nod toward making decisions toward sustainable growth. Sustainable for people, profit and the planet.
We’ve all been making changes in our daily lives - some out of necessity - but others for a better routine and personal health. Many of us would like to see these positive changes continue into the future for improved productivity and well-being. Whether it’s been; fewer journeys in the car, making healthier meals and reducing food waste, shopping loose rather than in packaging, taking your reusable boxes and bags when grocery shopping, making video calls instead of travelling to meetings, indoor workouts, cycling and walking while enjoying the fresh air of our local neighbourhood.
While we are changing and improving within our personal control, it’s also important that governments and businesses lead the way too. The UK government have been pressured by business leaders and investors to #buildbackbetter but are making the right noises that this is an opportunity to build back with a ‘Green New Deal’. They are also already in the process of putting through the new Environment Bill through parliament and are taking more immediate actions such as accelerated cycleway building.
We need to invest in green technologies, develop infrastructure and an environment for investment into a green revolution which develops skills and jobs deep into the future. A future where we deal with all of our own waste and use ever-increasing amounts of renewable energy.
Businesses are reviewing the workplace and taking steps for staff to work flexibly from home more often, if not permanently. Health and safety is a driver for many decisions but equally reducing carbon emissions is forcing organisations to think more sustainably and take a longer-term view.
If these last few months have shown us anything, it’s that as a society - as ONE planet - we can achieve anything if there is real desire. Now is the perfect opportunity to reflect and reset. To make changes to a future we want to see. There is time, and it is the time, to create a new normal that has sustainability at its core for the future health of the planet. It’s time to flatten the climate curve.
By James George MCIWM
Key Account Manager at BPR Group Europe Ltd