Covid-19 and the environment: Where to from here?
By Sonu Shivdasani
I have been fortunate enough to experience many crises during my lifetime. My choice of the word ‘fortunate’ is deliberate. The Chinese word for crisis is two characters: ‘danger’ and ‘opportunity’. According to Lao Tzu, the Chinese writer and philosopher, ‘good fortune has its roots in disaster.’ Over the years, I have come to understand these words and have realised that these crises are opportunities to learn, grow and develop. I have realised that if we consider a crisis in a positive way, we can always find an opportunity to learn and develop and make our lives more enriching as a result.
The current crisis has allowed many people the opportunity to pause and rethink their values and importantly their priorities. I believe that only through introspection can we shape a better, new reality post-Covid-19. In a post-Covid-19 world, consumers will be more conscious of the impact that they will have on both nature and the communities which they visit. I have to specifically mention air travel, which, while it is a big part of an individual’s ecological footprint, is a very small contributor to greenhouse gases, and its contribution is less than the negative impact of the beef and dairy industry.
It is important to remember, while the current global health emergency will end, unfortunately, this hopeful scenario will not be the case with global warming. It is an ongoing situation which will affect each and every one of us. And it highlights our interconnectedness.
Climate experts believe that we are near a tipping point of no return. Some believe we have already passed it. We already have 400 parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere. Even if we reduced our carbon emissions considerably and followed the targets established in Paris in 2016, we will still hit 500 parts per million. Even if we were to slam on the brakes and turn around, we would not be able to because nature itself would continue the global warming process as a result of feedback loops, such as methane escaping from below the Arctic and the Antarctic, less reflection from glaciers that have disappeared, warmer seas emitting CO2 rather than absorbing them and so on.
I hope that in a post-Covid-19 era, we will become more sensitive to nature’s innovations. We will try to work in harmony with nature rather than try to battle it. It’s my opinion that this terrible virus came about because we ignored nature’s laws and I believe that now the hospitality industry will focus more on a natural, unique experience that contributes to the environment. It is also encouraging to see that many of the major hotel companies have now started to take the path that Soneva did in 2008 and eliminate single-use plastic in their properties including, most importantly, plastic water bottles.
I suspect, that even though the second quarter of 2020 may be the period of the greatest economic decline in history; I think consumers will be prepared to spend that little bit extra for a unique experience as they will value the precious time with their families more now than ever.
As we recover and journey out of this crisis, we will reach a fork in the road. I do hope that we will clearly know where we want to go. The current global pandemic has highlighted how interconnected we are, and how important it is that as humans on planet earth, we break through our national boundaries and collaborate together to preserve life on earth as we know it.
If we do not change, and just go back to business as usual after this crisis, it will be a sad, lost opportunity. All the suffering that we have been through over these past months will have been for nothing. This pandemic will end but the important question is whether, the bond we have with the way we live and our daily reality has been sufficiently broken, and whether we can attach ourselves to a new reality and a new way of doing things; or if we will just go back to our old ways.
Editor’s Note: This op-ed was originally published on Linkedin by Sonu Shivdasani. Sonu is the founder and CEO of Soneva, which owns luxury resorts Soneva Fushi and Soneva Jani in the Maldives, and Soneva Kiri in Thailand.