Covid-19 was not a difficult problem to tackle. We made it a problem. It is an effect of bad practices perpetuated by human beings. The virus has a short shelf life. If all the countries in the entire world that were then affected had come together and agreed on a lockdown for around 15 days in early 2020, Covid could have very well become history.
The real problem is that there is no unity amongst nations. There is not a single leader in the world who has the capacity to make people understand. There is not a single leader in any country to whom every citizen listens to. We are in chaos because of lack of leadership, not Covid. This illness is a product of complete failure of leadership and human conscience to behave responsibly.
We are also in an environmental disaster. We are witnessing climate change, icebergs melting, rampant forest fires, the coming of new viruses, etc. We will witness worse pandemics if we don’t wake up. Biodiversity is being affected globally, with ecosystems vanishing and a million species at risk of extinction. We urgently need to reverse this to prevent another mass extinction event. The slight progress we are witnessing to stop industries from polluting the earth is happening because of NGO movements like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth and social and environmental groups that are taking legal action to stop further destruction.
Recently, a court in the Netherlands asked Royal Dutch Shell to reduce its emissions by a net 45% by 2030 compared to 2019 levels. This judgement was a product of the Friends of the Earth moving the Dutch court.
Late last year, the Danish government, which was under pressure, announced that it would cancel all future licensing rounds for new oil and gas exploration and production permits in the Danish part of the North Sea and end existing production by 2050. As a major oil-producing country in the EU, Denmark’s announcement is a landmark decision towards the necessary phasing-out of fossil fuels.
Similarly, due to the pressure exerted by Greenpeace, Bunnings, one of Australia’s biggest users of energy, has decided to cut emissions of around 2,57,000 tonnes of C02 and this will lead to about 110 MW of new investment in wind and solar power.
Coming back to pandemics and epidemics, we must understand them as an environmental response. Many pathogens have travelled from animals to human beings because we have engaged in rampant deforestation and gone too close to them. Humans are killing billions of animals every year for consumption and for making goods from animal skins. This is a great tragedy. Meanwhile, forgetting their role in the tragedy and to absolve themselves of the responsibility of endangering the earth, leaders are busy only calling for investigations into Covid’s origins.
The truth is we have endangered the earth. We have no unity even at the time of a pandemic. The truth is we are facing the worst leadership crisis at this crucial time.
The citizens of every country in this world are also responsible for this environmental disaster. Human beings are consuming far too much compared to what they need. We have learned to enjoy only the consumption of material things. We want big houses, big cars, fancy gadgets, too many clothes, shoes, crocodile leather shoes and mink coats, etc.
Enjoyment can be achieved even by listening to music, seeing art, reading literature, hiking along nature trails, photography, playing sports, good poetry, adventure, etc.
We don’t need to be obsessed with hedonism and keep on consuming more and more, and believe that only consumption creates happiness. Eastern philosophy has always taught the opposite. The goal of human life is happiness and peace and not consumption.
It’s time for everyone to wake up, think about how to get happiness without endangering the earth and lead a sustainable life, so that our children have the earth to live in.
Ashoke K Maitra, Founder and CEO, Sri Ramakrishna International Institute of Management