Can removing the strain on earth’s natural resources and our social systems pave the way for a socially equitable and environmentally sustainable future?
The world as we know it has changed abruptly at the onset of Covid-19. The fear of possible contraction by coronavirus has literally put much of life to a stop.
At the same time, the virus has also horrendously exposed the loopholes in our social and economic systems in the name of globalization.
An over-emphasis on fossil-fuel driven economic development since the industrial era has put humans in a race for 'greed-driven economic models' instead of sustainable economic models.
All of a sudden, this virus has literally pushed us back to basic necessities of life.
Globally, we have adopted a trajectory of prosperity that is not sustainable for our planet. We are simply not willing to accept the fact that perpetual economic growth is impossible to attain and GDP is a poor measure of a country's collective well-being status.
We have become overly materialistic and have forgotten the simple pleasures of life, the things which matter the most. We are connected via social media, but more disconnected than ever before.
No wonder suicide rates and mental health issues have been on the rise all over the world.
We are excessively concerned with monetary gains but have forgotten how to grow food, how to properly nourish our bodies.
We have short attention spans and are predominantly in denial because we don't know how to confront discomfort and uncertainty.
We have fed our fears and ego rather than our conscience. We are chasing money, thinking it will bring us happiness or we delay our happiness to some point in the future, forgetting the very fact that happiness is a choice.
We don't acknowledge our neighbours or support our fellow humans. We have only learnt the art of competition and never really put emphasis on the art of collaboration.
And, we have surely forgotten that we are supposed to be a part of a community and need to have a symbiotic relationship with nature.
Both coronavirus and climate change are problems of our generation, both have the potential to take human lives and can lead to even graver consequences in the foreseeable future.
But, here comes the strange issue with human psychology. Humans, by nature, are mostly wired for immediate gratification instead of delayed gratification.
Similarly, we have a hard time conjuring fear based on climate projections for 20 or 30 years down the road but being quarantined for the next week is a scary reality.
The psychological part that goes into thinking about tomorrow is not easy for us, and climate science, which deals with distant future probabilities, is hard to process and harder for us to be afraid of.
Thus, we have continued with our commercial practices that have been based on an outmoded linear approach, resulting in resource depletion with tremendous waste and inequitable distribution of goods and services.
Scientists have repeatedly warned global leaders that our planet is choking and urged them to act aggressively and quickly to curb planet-warming emissions. Still, emissions have only grown, and the impact of climate change can be seen from earth's reaction: a three-month-long flood in the Florida Keys, wildfires across Australia, and deadly heat waves in Western-Europe.
This over-emphasis on the race for economic growth without prioritizing other important aspects of human life have not only put extreme strains on earth's natural resources, but also have put heavy pressure on our social systems.
In Dhaka, we are clearly seeing effects of unplanned industrialization that has led to enormous urban sprawl all over the city.
We obviously cannot ignore the contribution of industries in the development of Bangladesh but we should also keep in mind that unplanned industrialization has caused great harm for the environment and has massively hindered on the path of sustainable development.
The impact of Bangladesh's industry-driven rural-urban migration to Dhaka and its' outskirts has only aggravated Dhaka's population density over the years. With the outbreak of this pandemic, it is evident that these workers from the formal and informal economy do not have just enough to cover their basic needs on a day-to-day basis.
In the face of Covid-19, it is obvious more than ever before that we need to switch to different kind of economic models and business practices, if we are aiming for a socially equitable and environmentally sustainable future.
Concepts such as industrial ecology and circular economy cannot be treated as something to deal with in the distant future.
If we continue with similar business practices, then the pandemic has surely taught us at least one thing for sure - we are immensely vulnerable if any mass disaster like this strikes us again in the future.
How many times would it take until all of us listen and say "enough is enough"? Can we correct the mistakes of yesterday?
The author is a Manager, Knowledge Management and Cross-cutting Themes, M4C project, at Swisscontact Bangladesh.