POST CORONA — A TIME TO RECLIBRATE

The recent past , under the shadow of the threat of Covid -19(Coronavirus), has unleashed threats to the Global Eco-system of a scale never observed in recent memory. Indeed, the threat of Coronavirus, seemingly, has destructive capabilities surpassing that of a nuclear holocaust, the most potent missile attack and even the most ferocious natural disaster whether earthquake, tsunami or what have you.

As somebody remarked, the threat, apart from being real, also affects everybody and everyone irrespective of their ideology, region, religion, caste, or any other social, economic or political identifier. The unified approach, and the near unanimity exhibited by everyone Globally, is reflective of the remarkable outreach and extraordinary destructive potential of this threat. Let us fondly and optimistically hope that while this is a harbinger of positive tidings on this count for the future ,where “collaborative effort” and not “adversarial mentalities” would chart the discourse, the collective effort would also enable us to overcome the threat with minimal damage globally.

While political and bureaucratic dispensations, with the cooperation of and more than willing help from the civil society, are battling this threat and taking steps to combat its spread, a couple of thoughts have come to my mind during introspection in the time that I have on my hand , rather unfortunately, due to the National Lockdown, I endeavour to share below.

On one of the mornings, soon after the lockdown commenced, I woke up, went out into the balcony, which fortunately for me overlooks a lush green park, closed my eyes and could for once hear the chirping of birds, the chattering of the squirrels and the gentle rustling of leaves. Opening my eyes I saw the plush green manicured lawn and the blue sky with a much better air quality index to boot — sounds, sights, experiences and feelings which had long ceded their space from even the remotest corners of my memory. It seemed ironical that something which we should have taken for granted and which should have been an integral part of our lives had been given such ruthless treatment.

While the circumstances which led me to such a surreal experience are really unfortunate, the question that begs an answer is are we human beings by our senseless and relentless degradation of the mother Earth not responsible for the situation to have to come to such a pass. Perhaps this happening is God’s reminder (a rather forceful one at that ) to work collectively, with alacrity and an extraordinary sense of urgency to step in and before it gets too late to take corrective action to reverse the damage that we have already caused by the relentless, almost criminal use of our resources. It is in this context that the term “sustainability” needs to acquire renewed focus and engage the attention of the entire World. No, it is not just a fashionable term, just to be bandied about among the hoi-polloi and political high tables but a definite need of the hour, as more emphasised by this recent outbreak.

On the subject of “sustainability”, Economists, Planners and Thinkers worldwide have conceptualized a “Circular Economy”(also referred to simply as “Circularity”)which is an economic system aimed at eliminating waste(need I say “degradation”) and the continual use of resources by employing techniques enabling reuse, sharing, repair, refurbishment, remanufacturing and recycling to create a close-loop system, minimising the use of resource inputs/creation of waste/pollution and carbon emissions. In a “Circular Economy” model, Waste is a design flaw( since “it does not exist in nature”) and all “waste” should become “food” for another process, either as a by-product or recovered resource for another industrial process or as regenerative resources for nature.

The said approach is in sharp contrast to the traditional models, which, although perfectly suited to the times and situation in which they were conceived, are based on “take, make, disperse” model wherein waste is an essential concomitant and degradation of resources, a necessary but rather unwelcome fallout.

Arising out of this is the concept of “Cradle to Cradle” vision outlined by the German Chemist Dr. Michael Braungart and Architect William Mcdonough in their epochal book of the same name, which calls for redesigning of all the systems to enable every material of the system to be used in a continuous cycle of reuse. In this vision all products are ultimately blocked down into either “technical nutrients” which are made into new products or “biological ones” which return to the soil.

Before we start wondering as to what is the ultimate message that is intended to be conveyed here, I may hasten to, that it is neither intended to be an “economic thesis” or to prophesize on the possibility of a “doomsday scenario” but to entreat all of us to incubate “sustainability” as a necessary ingredient, nee “mantra”, in our daily lives. Right from the food that we eat, clothes that we wear, the mode of transportation that we use to and all other decisions that we take in daily life, the touchstone for all our decisions henceforth should be the levels of “sustainability” which our decision complies with. I have reason to believe, a belief which is not based on mere platitudes or hearsay, but has strong foundations, and a logical basis, that such a course of action will fulfil the parameters of comfort, need (not “greed”) and of course economic sustainability, if pursued earnestly and to its logical end.

More particularly on the issue of clothes that we wear and the Textile Industry, the loveable Comedian and Television Host Hasan Minhaj in a recent show highlighted how ones need to satiate our fashion sense is leading to a colossal waste of natural resources and a consequential multiplier effect on environmental degradation. In fact he very effectively, a bit sarcastically perhaps, takes a dig at “Fast Fashion” and how our desire to look “Fresh to Death” is only resulting, at an even faster pace to “Environmental Death”. Is it not an irony that the fact of a member of the Royalty or a Celebrity, or the like, repeating a dress-worn publicly earlier, makes news headlines — should it not be accepted as a matter of fact and not make waves. In fact should not people in power or in impressionable roles, by their actions and deeds exhibit such behaviour as a matter of routine thereby encouraging lay people to emulate and accept the same behaviour as an inalienable part of their lives. The conclusion is have a compact wardrobe, use, reuse and recycle clothes for as long as you can — this will not impact your comfort or even how you are perceived by others. It is thoughts and deeds and not clothes that maketh a man.

The above discussion might, somewhat misplacedly, seem to convey an over-emphasis on fashion, while talking about sustainability. The fact is that sustainability should be touchstone on which all decisions impacting our daily lives should be based. While we should try and rely more and more on public transport for commuting (with its decidedly lesser carbon footprint), even the choice of vehicle that we own should be based on the type of fuel that it uses and of course its fuel efficiency. Remember a fuel efficient SUV or a sedan might give extraordinary thrill sending serotonin levels soaring, albeit temporarily, they are a definite antidote to sustainability and a tool for rapid environmental degradation. It is necessary that all our decisions conform to the tenets of sustainability — it is not considered necessary to exemplify other areas to prove the point but definitely an amalgam of clear headed thinking, powered by determination and a willingness to adjust, not compromise, our daily routines can definitely achieve the desired results.

Before I conclude it is time I remember, one of my favourite quotes — “We have not inherited the Earth from our ancestors but have borrowed it from our children”- which my Late Father used to quote very often, of course, in a different context while reminding us of our duties to our Children. In this context, it is imperative for us to take steps for the optimal use of our resources and prevent further degradation or else very soon, mother Earth would turn around, and with exponential ferocity, to quote Greta Thunberg say “ How dare you” and seek revenge in a manner and magnitude unimaginable. A productive, bright and sprightly future beckons all of us and the future generations — only if all of us individually and collectively redouble our efforts towards the path of sustainability.

While the World unites in its fight against Covid-19, let us all use this opportunity, an unfortunate one at that, to embed “sustainability” as a part of our psyche and basis for all our actions and decisions.

PS. The inspiration for this piece came from the article “The End of Trash” by Robert Kunzig published in the March 2020 issue of the “National Geographic Magazine”.

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