COVID-19 is an example that the global economy can, in fact, adapt and change, as did the lives of many people around the world. The imprint of this pandemic will last and have wide ramifications. In particular, for carbon-intensive industries which rack miles up in transport, manufacturing distribution and of course the raw inputs themselves. As Einstein said, in the midst of every crisis, lies great opportunity. Our opportunity now is to purposefully carve out economic contours of our society in ways which deliver social and environmental benefits that have been sacrificed for so long. The world may never get back to the level of blind consumerism that reached a crescendo in 2020 and for the planet and its people’s is a good thing. New investments should be run through a climate, ecological, social and cultural risk assessment the results of which help ensure a resilient economy.
What COVID has illustrated is that economic growth, for growth’s sake is not sustainable in any sense of the word- as soon a shock like this hits, it quickly unravels and it is left to government’s around the globe to put the workers whose job depended in these industries, on life support. Areas that support the necessities of life: food, water, housing, social connectivity. For any other economic service that is adjacent to these needs it is especially crucial to prepare for how shocks may eventuate and can be avoided with deference to the tripartite baseline of environmental protection, social security and economic well being. This does not mean to say that gone are the days of globalisation and fragmentation of supply chains, but rather, ones that want to avoid similar shocks to those from COVID-19 need to proactively anticipate what true sustainability looks like in order to deliver stable levels of wellbeing for the planet.
Contrarian documentary Planet of the Humans raised many questions about the potential for renewable energy to meet the energy needs of the future. It made various claims about the manufacturing, installation, operation and end impact of technologies including solar, wind and biofuels. It also looked at environmental groups such as Sierra Club and 350, and suggested that they were duplicitous, ill-informed and aligned with carbon majors. Such claims can be easily debunked, which also explains the producers having used footage from several decades and out of date statistics and technologies in order to mislead.
It does teach an important lesson when approaching the next environmental shift: the importance of scientifically sound approaches that look at the whole life cycle of a system. The vignettes of greenwashing that the film covers illustrate the danger of not doing so, as too, does the flawed evidence that the film presents as to the viability of grid-level renewable energy systems. It is a good thing that corporations and global economies are under pressure to evaluate and make changes to the sustainability of their supply chains. However, this should not be at the cost of robust analysis, both on their side, but equally amongst the public.
One of the biggest fallacies which the film promotes is that we cannot do anything, or that anything we do will be too minute to make a difference. Although we have no silver bullet, we have the individual and collective power to make sustainable choices. It is therefore important to analyse your environmental impact and that of the goods and services you use because ultimately they shape the global economy which over the course of the past two centuries has got us to this point. Change needs to occur at all levels, and we need to consider and implement all viable technologies that can help shape a greener future or as the film puts it humanity will indeed ‘be doomed’.
Below is an extract in published in New Zealand magazine this May
Locked in our bubbles and isolated these past weeks we got the opportunity to experience life as endangered species of Aotearoa. Fragmented from our daily routines and families, facing uncertainty as to different aspects of survival and yes even competition for precious kai. Climate change is the COVID-19 of the natural world, and we as a collective wield the vaccine.
We can be proud of Aotearoa’s world-leading approach to managing this vaccine. In fact, this is not the first time that we have gone our own path. 85 million years ago we split from Gondwana land, and burst any notion of a Trans-Tasman bubble by separating again from Australia 55 million years ago. Same as now, us carving our own path was a way of preserving life; with our species able to develop in all their endemic vibrancy due to a predator-free environment. Yet we are now losing them. With species facing a range of threats from climate change, habitat fragmentation, land-use change to invasive predator species, thousands of species are at risk of extinction in Aotearoa alone.
Our lockdown was an invitation to experience their life under threat, not in their shoes but through their claws, beaks and scales. Now we know what it is like, now is the time to do something about it. We questioned the legality of lockdown, so too should we question why aren’t Maui or other living taonga, legally protected in the same way that some of our maunga and awa are. We should look at how we can reduce species fragmentation by restoring the once thriving ecosystems both in our backyards and more broadly in our communities, with the sweetness of the Pūriri berry matching the taste of the first soy mocha you got after lockdown. We should also think bigger, whilst we’re reimagining the possibilities of our new post COVID economy- what would a system look like that puts the living environment in all its forms first?
We have shown we can fight back to a collective threat of COVID, now we have bigger fish to fry or rather protect. If these questions excite you, reach out.
Excited to have run a webinar on the implications for NGOs from Climate Change for SDG.org.nz. You can check out a recorded version here: https://www.sdg.org.nz/webinars/
The 2019 UNLEASH Innovation Lab has just concluded in Shenzhen, China. I was selected as one of 1000 talents from 169 countries who wish to use their experience and aptitude in sustainable development to help further the world’s progress on meeting the 17 Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.
Talents were guided by a curated innovation process curated by lead partner Deloitte which included dedicated stages of Problem Definition, Ideation, Prototyping, Testing and Implementation. Over 200 solutions to 8 SDGs were developed over the 7 day process. A process which was wrapped up by 2 Nobel Peace Prize Laureates.
On top of this the location of UNLEASH in Shenzhen, China provided a unique backdrop for insights in particular to innovation. Shenzhen itself grew from a town of 30,000 in the 1970s to a city of over 20 million in 2019. The supply chain processes that Shenzhen hosts touch on nearly every product consumed in modern life.
My team’s problem centred on traffic congestion in Manila which causes an estimated $24 Billion USD in lost economic opportunity, which amounts to nearly half of the average Manila worker’s salary. Our solution was to help diffuse economic concentration in the city centre by offering the ability and confidence to Manila’s growing business process outsourcing (BPO) companies to host satellite office locations. The benefits of which include enhanced productivity, worker wellbeing and reduced traffic congestion and its associated negative externalities.
All in all it was a fantastic experience and I can’t wait to see what’s produced at its 2020 iteration- wherever in the world it is next!