Coronavirus pandemic is a warning from Mother Earth: the world cannot return to business as usual

The Covid-19 pandemic that has harshly threatened human health and the global economy over the last five months is the most severe warning ever given by nature. Will political and business leaders ignore this warning and continue to put economic growth first?
On World Environment Day, I urge national and business leaders to fundamentally overhaul our development strategies.
High-carbon fossil fuels were used to power industrial development and economic growth over the past centuries. The atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration has risen from 280 parts per million (ppm) at the beginning of the industrial revolution to 416 ppm in April this year, a shock to the ecosystems we depend on for survival.
Nuclear energy was developed in the mid-1950s and is hailed as a climate-friendly energy today. But some countries have paid a high price for using nuclear power; one need only refer to the two biggest disasters – Chernobyl in 1986 and Fukushima in 2011.
Then there is plastic. Plastic was originally invented for industrial and medical applications. But single-use plastic and microplastics are now recognised as huge environmental problems. Many large multinational corporations pledged to tackle the problem. However, the petrochemical industry is still expanding plastic manufacturing plants.
Forests are renewable carbon sinks, absorbing significant amounts of greenhouse gases that would outperform man-made carbon capture and storage facilities. But forests have been “developed” unsustainably for quick gains. It is estimated that, since 2016, an area of forest equivalent to one football pitch has been lost every second.
The Ebola, severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) and Covid-19 viruses, and other deadly pathogens, have coexisted with animals in the wild for ages. But we continue to encroach on their natural habitats, bringing us closer to wild animals and even catching them for food. So now, the viruses are starting to escape their animal hosts to infect humans.
Most measures launched to counter all these threats are mitigation-oriented, be it recycling, carbon sequestration or building higher sea walls. These measures cannot solve the crises permanently.
Nations have started preparing post-pandemic economic recovery plans. The world cannot afford to retain the pre-Covid development model. Our leaders must start developing a new strategic approach to prevent the occurrence of anthropogenic disasters related to viruses, climate and pollution.
Mother Earth has been providing everything for our needs, but she cannot continue satisfying our greed.
If we still do business as usual after this painful calamity, we and our future generations will regret it forever!
Edwin Lau
Founder and Executive Director of The Green Earth
5 June 2020 SCMP