April 25, 2020

The Links Between Coronavirus and Sustainability

The world is facing not one crisis, but two. The world's focus is, understandably, on the Coronavirus pandemic. But it is important to remember that we are also in the midst of a climate emergency. And while the links between the coronavirus pandemic and our environmental crisis may not be immediately apparent, it is important to recognise the links between the two.

Both crises show us that our systems are not sustainable. Things must change if we are to overcome the existential threats we face. We must care for our planet, care for people, take only our fair share, and meet our needs without compromising the ability of future generations to do the same.

A Lack of Sustainability is Implicated in the Coronavirus Crisis

First off, it is vital to recognise that our lack of long-term thinking when it comes to our planet and its precious ecosystems created, at least in part, the conditions for this pandemic to arise.

Deforestation and habitat destruction around the world have thrown humans and animals into ever closer quarters. Human encroachment on natural systems has increased the frequency of transmission of pathogens between species. Those of us involved in fighting back against the lack of environmental sustainability have long warned of the dangers (and inevitability) of a global pandemic. This current crisis, sadly, has come as no surprise.

In many parts of the developed world, the pandemic has also served to highlight the fragility and lack of sustainability in many of our societal systems. A predominance of short-term, austerity thinking has weakened our health systems and food systems to the point where, in many places, they have struggled and are struggling to cope. More people will die than should have died, due to the lack of sustainability in our crucial systems.

A lack of sustainability in welfare systems, and wealth disparity, show that it takes just one shock for many support systems to come tumbling down. The gap between rich and poor becomes even more pronounced. And future generations will continue to suffer for the lack of preparedness.

The Environmental Changes Due to the Coronavirus Crisis

When people are dying, it may seem crass to draw attention to the benefits of the crisis. But the fact of the matter is that the shut-down of many elements of our modern lives have highlighted more starkly than ever the need for sustainable change.

The air is cleaner, emissions have declined, as more people stay home to work and industry is shut down. Wildlife is doing well, with the decrease in traffic on our roads. Already, ecosystems are repairing themselves in small but significant ways.

No one is saying that the health crisis is a good thing. But by looking at what is better when people stay home, we can begin to see what needs to change, and how urgent that change is.

But this is not the time for complacency. There is a danger that, with the health and financial crisis of coronavirus, and its aftermath, environmental sustainability could slip down the agenda. Funding may be lacking, and we may slip back onto the wrong path. We all have a duty to make sure sustainability stays in people's mind.

We must rebuild our societies not in the model of the old, but with a true, concerted effort to tackle the climate crisis. This is a crucial time. A better future is within our reach, but we need to reach out with both hands and reach for true sustainability in all arenas in the days to come.