How The COVID-19 Pause Could Save The Planet

Changing how we work and travel to be kinder to the planet — and ourselves — didn’t seem possible. But it turns out that change was well within reach.

Maha Heang/ Shutterstock
Maha Heang/ Shutterstock

It’s hard to believe it’s been well over two months since the global health crisis upended the way we live and work. While gradual re-openings bring a glimmer of comfort, there’s no question that the pandemic has reshaped society and our world has changed.

Social distancing, self-isolation and working from home hasn’t always been easy. On a personal level, I’ve deeply missed working with my team in our office and lab spaces and the collisions and energy of direct personal connections. As we look to reopen, I admit, there are valuable, and unexpected, lessons that I will take forward with me. And I don’t think I’m alone in feeling that way. 

For several years, I’ve been travelling an incredible amount, growing my company, Terramera, and our global network of investors and partners in between logging long hours in the office alongside my very dedicated team. Now, sheltering in place, I’ve had a chance to catch my breath and lean into the quiet. What’s emerged with real clarity for me is this: our collective response to COVID-19 holds valuable lessons that we can apply to tackling the other big crisis facing humanity — climate change. 

Since the crisis, we’ve seen governments make sweeping changes across jurisdictions to protect the health and safety of their citizens. Steps like reducing travel and curtailing business were unthinkable just a few months ago. We’ve also seen leaders at home and around the world (though not without exceptions) turn to data and science, rather than opinions, to stave off crisis.

All this has proven that we are capable of widespread, systemic change in order to prioritize world health for both short and long-term gain. The pandemic crisis has called to question whether taking action on climate change would be unfeasible — too bitter a pill to swallow, economically and socially. If anything, this crisis has shown us that we are capable of banding together as humans to coordinate global action against a common enemy. It has also shown us the costs of not taking action soon enough on existential threats to individuals and humanity.

What’s more, addressing climate change needn’t require the kind of extreme economic shut-down and social disruption we are experiencing now — if we take steps to address it now. We still have time to act deliberately and with forethought. In contrast to the radical shifts we’re currently living through, incremental change to address global warming won’t necessarily require wholly upending our way of life. My point: if we can weather this crisis together, we can find a way forward in the face of climate change. 

But we have to act immediately. As we look to restart and rebuild our economy and our lives, we have a rare chance to reset, re-imagine, and course-correct to choose a path that is better aligned to long-term sustainability for healthy people, planet and profits. We can shift toward ways of working that are kinder to the earth and to ourselves personally and collectively. This needs to happen at the level of governments and societies. But it can start much closer to home.

Personally, these past months have shown me just how susceptible I was to the cycle of busyness that rules so many of us…doing, doing, doing without stopping and thinking, let alone being. Just getting through the day with the demands of work and family can be a challenge. Interrupting that delicate routine — changing how we work and travel to be kinder to the planet and ourselves — didn’t seem possible. But it turns out that change was well within reach. 

Now, I can’t wait to get back to the office and see my team in person, but I realize we can work remotely and still function as a cohesive, collaborative and productive whole. In some ways, we’re working faster and more efficiently with a remote set-up than we did in person. At the same time, I’m seeing it is possible to maintain my networks and my business trajectory by making better use of technology, rather than always getting on a plane. 

I’m not saying Terramera will transition to a fully remote workforce (it’s hard to grow and eat virtual plants), or that I’ll stop attending important events that can mobilize people and activities, like the World Economic Forum. But we can strike a better balance, simply by using the powerful tools already on hand. Meanwhile, this experience has redoubled my commitment to Terramera’s core mission: strengthening local food systems while transforming agriculture into a positive force for the environment across the globe. 

You may have noticed something else recently: more birds singing, clearer views, cleaner air. We’ve seen a drastic reduction in emissions in many parts of the world, so much so that some cities in India have a clear view of the Himalayas for the first time in generations. It’s astounding how quickly the natural world is responding to the reduction in human activity — and it’s a clear, irrefutable indicator of our collective impact on the planet and our ability to make better choices that support it. 

Whether it’s a walk in the woods or a walk around the block, so many of us are being drawn outdoors right now — and for good reason. Nature has an incredible capacity to support us, in ways both physical and emotional. It’s time we return the favour. We have an incredible opportunity, right now, to reinvent and re-imagine ourselves and our social and economic systems to be healthier, more sustainable and more resilient. Let’s take this opportunity to change for the good.

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