The world is going through an unprecedented uncertainty. Yes, it is a shock, but not a surprise! The Sustainability advocates have been harping upon this catastrophe since ages – it was only a matter of time! And, interestingly enough, this (COVID 19) too is man-made – a testimony to his/her inherent irresponsibility towards the planet and its creatures!
But what has happened due to this, is the resetting of the earth, reorientation of its creatures – great and small, emergence of the concept of ‘mindfulness’ in thought and action. In other words, Year 2020 paved the way for a NEW NORMAL!
Let us start by understanding what Sustainability is? In a layman’s term, Sustainability is ‘to live and let live ……. to live on!’ It means to transcend a time and space, to attain perpetuity! And this sustainability, right now, is at stake for the human species! Whatever is natural will go on …. the unnatural is under threat!
If we want to learn about the lessons of Sustainability in this time of pandemic, it is essential for us to know where we are headed! Interestingly, it has already been discussed and set in stone as the universally applicable goals by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as laid down by the United Nations (UN). Let us revise the 5Ps of the SDGs and what it entails:
TABLE 1: 5Ps of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
|PLANET||Protect our planet’s natural resources and climate for future generations.|
|PEOPLE||End poverty and hunger in all forms and ensure dignity and equality.|
|PROSPERITY||Ensure prosperous and fulfilling lives in harmony with nature.|
|PEACE||Foster peaceful, just and inclusive societies.|
|PARTNERSHIP||Implement the agenda through a solid global partnership|
While the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) (2000 – 2015) had a myopic vision to only tackle ‘the indignity of poverty’, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) (2016 – 2030) believes ‘in an integrated approach to support progress across the multiple goals’ and lays down 17 macro goals for the world’s future, backed up by a set of 169 detailed targets. More importantly, the COVID 19 pointed out right in time that all these issues are indeed – Universal, Integrated and Transformational!
Let us now look through the 17 macro goals of the SDGs and try to apprehend what we experienced and learnt in terms of sustainability in the last few weeks since the attack of the Covid 19 virus on humankind:
TABLE 2: Sustainability lesson learnt in the time of Pandemic (COVID19) with respect to the 17 Marco Sustainable Development Goals
|Sl. No.||SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT GOALS (SDGs)||LESSONS|
|1||End poverty in all its forms everywhere||1. Conscious of an egalitarian society. |
2. It does not matter who you are, what you do.
3. People risking their life to go and help – raise money, connect through online payment solutions (PayTm/ GooglePay) to help.
4. Various new Government schemes have been floated.
5. Political parties, religious parties coming together.
|2||End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture||1. Understood the difference between essential and non-essential commodities.|
2. More than ever conscious and eager to reach out to our hungry neighbour.
3. More respectful towards our food, our farmers.
4. Mindful of what we eat, how to source.
|3||Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages||1. More than ever concerned about our physical and mental well-being.|
2. Know what Work-life balance means (and know what we complained about all our life was a luxury).
3. Concept of compassion and empathy redefined – among employer and employee, among family members!
|4||Ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning||1. Education and learning are seamless.|
2. You do not need physical schools to learn – zoom schools can be made effective!
3. Best education of our children is happening now – that no formal education will teach – life skills!
4. Your best education is happening now – online!
5. How many of you have enrolled and done a new course that you always wanted to do?
6. Learning has no hierarchy – the teachers and students are learning together.
|5||Achieve gender equality and empower women and girls||Although, globally 243 million women aged between 15 – 49 have been subject to physical/ sexual violence (domestic violence); we still acknowledge that the woman reigns supreme; more respect for women in their ability to plan and multitask|
|6||Ensure access to water and sanitation for all||1. Is now of key importance (handwash).|
2. More than ever conscious of good hygiene practices.
3. Understand and acknowledge that Cleanliness is indeed next to Godliness!
|7||Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all||1. Robots (AI) suddenly has become extremely relevant.|
2. Technology has become important components of life.
3. New innovations at all sectors and spheres – eg. foot operated tap that washes hands, no touch basins
|8||Promote inclusive and sustainable economic growth, employment and decent work for all||1. How many of you have pledged to support indigenous skilled workers and craftspeople?|
2. Aren’t we all concerned about all the people who have been in some form of service to us – the maid who cannot come, the driver, the tailor …? And so on!
|9||Build resilient infrastructure, promote sustainable industrialization and foster innovation||1. Witnessing the break up/ restructuring of larger organizations. |
2. Witnessing the emergence of aggregators of small and micro enterprises.
3. Reemergence of Kinara stores in a new format
|10||Reduce inequality within and among countries||Imperative (the gap between developed and rising economies have ceased to exist). Eg. What has happened to the economy of the USA, Spain, Italy, France?|
|11||Make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable||1. Lockdown has taught us what safety is; what is a containment area, a red zone – what minimum facilities we require to exist.|
2. Redefined the role of police, army, civil society, individuals in keeping the city safe.
|12||Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns||1. Difference between essential and non-essential commodities.|
2. We have learnt that in times of distress – we only need basic food, clothing and shelter … and hygiene.
|13||Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts||1. Climate can be cured.|
2. We are more than ever acutely conscious of climate change.
3. Only thing that can really give us happiness and peace is – nature! The new leaves, the flowering of buds, the bird that sits on its branches!
|14||Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources||1. Conscious use of plastic – Virus stays 72 hours on plastic – more use of cloth bags, biodegradable products.|
2. Less plastic use forces to cure the waterways
3. More conscious about what contamination (factory waste) goes in the water.
4. Know now that the Ganges in Haridwar is actually crystal clear!
|15||Sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, halt and reverse land degradation, halt biodiversity loss||Learnt about the concepts of urban garden/ backyard forests.Started our own patch of green in whatever format!|
|16||Promote just, peaceful and inclusive societies||Quarantine centres do not demarcate on the basis of class, creed, religion, political inclinations|
|17||Revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development||1. Partnerships and collaborations are key.|
2. India helping out the USA, Pakistan in need.
3. China sending in their Corona kits to India.
4. The USA pulling out of WHO funding has subjected it to so much criticism.
In a nutshell, the COVID 19 pandemic taught us all the things that no University would ever teach us. It gave us lessons in humility, mindfulness, compassion, empathy, being responsible, made us conscious of our primitive instinct of self-preservation, taught us to value our homes, our relations, made us proud of our culture, taught us life skills, liberated our thoughts, made us more humane and thankful every day for life on earth! It made us more aware and taught us the foundations that lead to a sustainable world for all!
FIGURE 1: Sustainability lessons that no University will teach us but COVID-19 taught us
Lessons that no university will teach us:
- Primitive Instincts
- Value of Home, Relations
- Proud of our culture
Source: Author’s Own
Most importantly, it taught us that the concept of Sustainability lies with the US! From the US, it transcends to our family, neighbourhood, community, office, country, world! It taught us to value others over self … that the well-being of others brings in our own wellbeing. It is not enough to cover our face alone; we have to cover each and every face to be able to protect ourselves. As Mahatma Gandhi said, WE indeed have to be the change that WE want to see the world.
Yes, the world will heal, we will get back to ‘normal’ once again – to a fearless world! But what is important right now is to be aware of these lessons, acknowledge and remember of this time and be more mindful in our thoughts and actions in the future. The vision of life is the quality of life in terms of high thinking and simple, responsible living – where the planet, people, prosperity, peace and partnership form a symbiotic seamless relationship! It is time to adapt to the NEW NORMAL!
*The copyright of this article remains with the author.
(Dr. Nayan Mitra, is the Founder-Director of Sustainable Advancements (OPC) Private Limited.)
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