By Nina James, General Manager, Corporate Sustainability &
Ian Lieblich, Sustainability Manager
The Covid-19 emergency has had a devastating impact on the global population and economy. It defied national borders, spreading like wildfire, physically illustrating just how connected we really are as a global population. The virus has made us comfortably reliant on daily science briefings to inform our new normal social behaviours as we look to our doctors, researchers, and elected leaders for guidance and reassurances that the disaster is in hand. In addition, this health crisis has decimated global markets and rapidly triggered unemployment figures reflective of the Great Depression. Consideration of global responses reveal that those who acted firmly and early, were able to significantly reduce the chaos that ensued.
Reflecting upon these universal characteristics, it could be argued, that COVID-19 and the Climate Emergency are a lot alike. They share a global geography and are irreverent to nationalistic borders. They both result in mass market disruption and reactivate a civic reliance on the State, rather than the corporation to step in as civic protector, the earlier the better. They involve externalities, and challenge systems resilience. The two issues are invisible, you can't touch them or see them in motion, but you can certainly witness their path of destruction. Additionally, the mitigation measures to deal with both emergencies are entirely dependent on data, research and science. Both will decimate the human population if the inertia to take action reigns. Importantly, the outcome of both situations is very much driven by civic action or inaction. Lastly, both play out in the theatre of the all-powerful Mother Nature.
The Corona virus truly challenges the anthropocentric view of the world. If Mother Nature can simultaneously bring the global population to a grinding halt, and arrest the financial markets with a virus, it strikes us that perhaps now is the time to reflect upon the more humble eco-centric view and pay our dues accordingly.
This virus has sent us all to our rooms to consider what is really important. We’ve found ourselves reflecting on what really counts when the 'busyness' stops. Gyms were closed and office employees were dispatched to work from home, forcing many of us to familiarise ourselves with our own local neighbourhood and landscapes. We've all noticed the steady stream of folks out walking, running, cycling morning, noon and night. With all sport cancelled, families can now be seen walking and biking together in the great outdoors of our parklands and waterways. Perhaps this time of reflection will result in a renewed affection for nature? Notice the kookaburras at dawn now? Or, that the sunsets are magnificent this time of year? It's that feeling of spontaneous awe that Mother Nature can conjure up with an ancient tree or a stunning sunrise. That feeling of awe intimately connects us to nature. It has been inspiring to see how quickly Mother Nature took this opportunity to recover, with cleaner waterways and skies observed all over the world. Perhaps this time of reflection at home will result in a renewed love for our environment, and therefore an immediate concern for its demise due to climate change.
We have certainly witnessed a renewed concern for the community. Collectivism is prevailing, and evident in the successful "levelling of the curve". For the first time since the Great Wars, we are witnessing global communities coming together to look out for one another, as we all make sacrifices to protect those most vulnerable. Every citizen is taking actions for the greater good. Perhaps, just perhaps, this is a rehearsal for what's to come under climate change?
Climate change is no longer a scientific model, it’s Batemans Bay on New Year’s Eve.
The vicious summer of 2019-20 made it clear to every Australian citizen that climate change has arrived. Rather than a futuristic scenario model, climate change became something that could be cruelly counted; 18.6 million hectares, 5900 buildings, 2779 homes and 34 lives. Australians are battling drought, floods, fires and now a health crisis accompanied by an economic wreaking ball. These events must influence the psyche of the Australian resilience, and readiness to take action against climate change.
So post Corona isolation, what will remain? It strikes us that COVID-19 is providing a clear window into what global climate change might look like. COVID-19 has demonstrated that a change in the ecosystem in one part of the world, can cause global economic turmoil, illustrating how the two seemingly unrelated systems are intricately related. If a virus can cause a global financial catastrophe, what will climate change do? Surely now the argument of "the cost of action is too high" no longer stands up to interrogation when we will be re-paying the cost of inaction for generations.
In addition, COVID has taught us in no uncertain terms, that delayed action costs lives. Early Columbia University models indicate that a response delay of one week cost 35,000 American lives. A two-week delay cost the US 54,000 lives.
By contrast, and closer to home, COVID-19 has demonstrated that Australian state and federal governments can unite rapidly to flatten the curve. Perhaps this is a rehearsal for the inter-governmental cooperation required to address the multi-faceted challenges of climate change. COVID-19 has proven that governments and global populations can take action when consequences are visible.
There is of course an immediate opportunity regarding the potential for Government funded green infrastructure. The recent New South Wales Government announcement of a $3 billion Infrastructure and Job Acceleration Fund, will not only provide a pathway to employment, and economic recovery, but could also embed critical climate resilience criteria, setting a new standard for resilient infrastructure funding. Recovery investment in green infrastructure, education and training, R+D into clean tech and agriculture, and real investment into renewable energy would certainly herald a new policy position on action on climate change. In our minds, it would assist the economic recovery, and demonstrate a willingness to make smart decisions in the eye of the storm. Gosh! Just imagine..
Still the question persists, after this great pause, what will remain? What will we take with us, and what will we disregard as no longer viable, relevant, true, or important? And when life resumes ‘as normal’, what will be important? After months of renewed trust and faith in science and scientists, will we finally stop dismissing climate scientists?
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