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When we know better, we do better. It’s time we do better.
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Southbank Sustainability Group

06 May 2020

When we know better, we do better. It’s time we do better.

By Artemis Pattichi

Information leads to knowledge which leads to learning which leads to wisdom, progress, and adaptive growth. At least that’s how the flow should go.

While we are still collecting information about this virus and with the transmission curve flattening, decision makers are - rightly so - looking at how to best come out of lockdowns and back to our “normal” way of lives, of doing business, commerce, etc. as quickly as possible. Even though a lot of us are looking to go back to a routine that is comfortingly familiar, we need to take in the information that’s pushing us to do better, to grow, to adapt and act for our collective survival and quality of life.

In short, while the narrative right now is focused on containing and steering out of this pandemic with the least amount of harm possible, we need to add a stronger voice in the conversation about the root cause of the problem: long-term environmental destruction. Instead of trying to salvage old foundations that are no longer serving our collective best interest, we should talk about how we build the right foundations so we stop creating the ideal environment and conditions for another pandemic to happen. That is, while we’re getting out of this stage and working on rebuilding, our individual and collective decisions should always ask, “what will the environmental impact be?” and act from there.

Leading global experts and scientists have established that pandemics like COVID-19 are a direct result of a collapsing environment and ecosystem due to our overexploitation of natural resources and our consumption habits. More and more scientists and experts, like Dr Peter Daszak and his team from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), are ringing the alarm and backing it up with exhaustive studies. In a recent article published in The Guardian discussing their published work on the “most comprehensive planetary health check ever”, Dr Dascak and his team clearly demonstrated the causation between destructive pandemic outbreaks and our “rampant destruction of the natural world … [driven by] global financial and economic systems that prize economic growth at any cost”. “Recent pandemics are a direct consequence of human activity […] There is a single species responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic - us.” They concluded that “human society is in jeopardy from the accelerating decline of the Earth’s natural life-support systems”. The report highlighted that the way out of this is by taking advantage of the small window of opportunity we have right now to make choices, change habits, shift systems and industries that are contributing heavily to the problem instead of backing them up “as is”, and adopt a global “one health” approach. Where the health of people, wildlife, livestock and the environment are all intimately connected and seen as one health. While stimulus packages are rolling out, we also need to ensure environmental regulations and expectations are not relaxed to get to a quick, short term recovery.

Otherwise, we are not dealing with the underlying drivers and are highly likely to see future pandemics “happen more frequently, spread more rapidly, have a greater impact and kill more people if we are not extremely careful about the possible impacts of the choices we make today,” as per the latest IPBES update.

We have centuries worth of information, knowledge, and learnings from our actions. Now is the time to confidently move into a space of wisdom, progress, and adaptive growth if we are to mitigate the consequences from our past actions and make sure we rebuild with solid foundations that will take us forward into the next few decades reducing the chances of a global pandemic repeating, while paving the way to thrive sustainably instead of following the existing paved way that’s leading to our demise.

So, right now, we need to build better, not go backwards. That is going to take all of us and it will mean doing some things differently. Whether we are making our voice count in collective decisions or deciding on what to buy for dinner or how stimulus funds are allocated, environmental impact should be in the centre of those decisions. And it may feel daunting, or overwhelming to even figure out where to start, but sometimes we just need to start anywhere and go from there. There are many environmentally-friendly solutions, choices, and/or systems already available. We just need to get better at supporting and developing them. There are many ways to get involved, too. If you are looking for existing communities to help guide you or keep you motivated, you can always join a sustainability group like ours or find an online community that works for you.

This next phase will need to put into good use the collective sense of community and comradery this pandemic helped create. Especially if we are to follow the recommended solutions from our foremost experts and scientific minds. We all helped create this mess, no matter our level of contribution. Now we all need to help clean it.

As Maya Angelou said, “when we know better, we do better.” Now it’s time we do better.

About the group: A solutions-focused group of Southbank residents working to bring positive change in sustainability practices and education to our neighbourhood, while building a wonderful community of like-minded people. 2019 Environment Melbourne Award winner.

While we are not meeting fortnightly during these times, there’s still opportunities to help with organising or the community garden, where you can exercise while engaging with nature. Reach out if you’re interested in getting involved •

 

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