Spoiler Alert: We are going to destroy our environment post Covid-19
These days we get to see a lot of positive photos on the impact of Covid-19 on the environment. My favorite meme about the improved air quality is the one that goes something like this; “Because of less air pollution, when I look up, I can see my files stored in the cloud.” Accompanying memes like this are photos of people seeing the Himalayas, Statue of Liberty and Eiffel Tower from their balconies.
With so many countries and regions on lockdown, the air seems to have become cleaner and whatever we see out of our bedroom windows is that much clearer. Behind this better air quality however is a global pandemic that no environmentalist would have wished on this planet in an attempt to reverse the effects of climate change.
For years, environmental groups have been working to get governments around the world to implement stricter laws that will protect this planet for future generations. Reports talking about rising sea levels, melting polar ice caps and increase in respiratory illnesses have been shared with us for decades.
The question to consider is, what will happen when we get back to work after the coronavirus pandemic? Will we step out, breath the fresh air and then promise ourselves that we will maintain the air quality, or will we get back to normal and continue doing what we did before the pandemic?
My take is that we won’t do either of these. What I am saying is controversial, but we need to address it. The pandemic is destroying economies and eating away at jobs every single day. When countries are open for business, I believe that many will relax environment protection rules and often drop them all together. The reason they will do this is because environmental compliance is perceived to be a cost in the short term and may make doing business more expensive and restrictive.
Creating jobs will be the modus operandi of many economies and this will often be at the cost of the environment. The reality is that we do not have a global policing body that is strong enough to enforce universal compliance. The argument countries and their leaders will make will be simple, “Why should my people suffer in poverty when other countries are ignoring environmental regulations and creating jobs?”
I remember listening to a story many years ago that explains this concept very clearly. The story goes something like this. There was once an orangutan who was trying to cross a river with her baby. As she got to the middle of the river, she realized that the river was in flood and the water level was rising. To protect her baby orangutan, she lifted her up in her arms. As the water level rose further, she put her on her shoulders. Soon the level got her shoulders and she raise the baby orangutan and placed her on her head. However, when the water level got to her nose and she could no longer breathe, she did something unimaginable. She put the baby on the riverbed, stood on it and continued to breath. Yes, this is a horrible story, but it illustrates a simple truth. When the present is at stake the future is often sacrificed.
When we get back to work after the coronavirus pandemic, we are in danger of destroying our environment. While choosing the survival of our generation, we might hamper the ability of the future to provide for itself. We need to be on guard and find innovative solutions to prevent this from happening.
Perhaps the opportunity for each of us individually is to build responsible organizations even when there are no regulations to govern them. By employing human ingenuity and creativity, we can do things differently to find cost-effective sustainable solutions. While the story about the orangutan is a work of fiction, the friction with our environment is quite real.