No Excuse for Environmental Neglect
As the gloom and despair wreaked around the world by the COVID-19 pandemic slowly begins to lift, there is no doubt that getting the world’s leading economies back up from life support will become top priority for Ottawa, White House and all other nations whose economic supply chains and social safety nets have never been stretched like they have over the last several weeks of collective worldwide house arrest.
But it is not their one and only job. For all intents and purposes, any hope of salvaging the world’s annual economic growth from grim reality of lost jobs, productivity and prosperity any time this year or next is pure wishful thinking. The global economy was already sputtering even before global health authorities and national governments came to grips with the destructive nature of the coronavirus outbreak, so getting back to the way things were even at the turn of the decade is simply not in the cards.
Whatever new normal emerges form this tragic calamity, it will never be the normal we once knew and took for granted. And with a magic cure or vaccine still being at the idea stage, at least at press time, we all better get used to it.
The problem with focusing solely on economic recovery is that such tunnel vision will hold back the much-needed efforts to clean up the planet’s environment and the impact of climate change, which we have witnessed over the last year played out in many corners of the globe at unprecedented levels of death and destruction—forest fires, hurricanes, tropical storms, heat waves, you name it.
While there is no evidence of a direct link between the growing incidence of weather-related disasters and the coronavirus outbreak per se, it does not seem beyond reason to speculate about some sort of a cause-and-effect relationship at play between human and environmental health.
It’s a telling paradox to see how a sudden stop to everyday industrial activity has manifested itself in surprising displays of Mother Nature’s resiliency: smog-free sunny days in Beijing, marine life returning to the clear blue canals of Venice, the Himalayans becoming visible from 200 kilometers away … it’s like seeing a planet healing itself after a prolonged depletion of its resources and ecosystems.
That’s why it is paramount that in our rush to regain the lost economic ground we don’t do it at the expense of putting the pressing environmental issues of the day on the back burner, yet again.
For the packaging industry, that means continuation of the considerable pre-pandemic progress towards the Circular Economy goals and objectives aimed at minimizing the industry’s environmental footprint.
Much has been said in the past about consumers not backing up their green intentions with their purchasing decisions, but as the current lockdown across much of the world shows, consumers can be led to do the right thing in the moment of crisis once they realize the life-and-death gravity of the situation.
The point is to give the consumers the means to make the right choices during the new normal, which means making the more sustainable products and packaging mainstream, rather than alternative options. To do that, governments must show the resolve to see their green promises brought to life in spite of the short-term economic discomforts this may cause. It’s all about leadership and the will to stay the course despite temptations to cut corners for the sake of short-term expediency. Let’s hope we have it in us, for all our sakes.