My colleagues in the Medinge Group (www.medinge.org) are currently collaborating in an online scenario-based exercise looking at re-connecting after Covid-19, re-connecting with business, society, brands and nature.
Much is being written by Radix fellows on the effects of Covid-19 on business and society. Many marketing gurus are writing on the relationship of consumers, society and brands as a result of Covid-19 (like me, I am sure you are keeping a list of brands that have responded well, and those that have been found badly wanting).
But it is the last of these, our connection with nature, which I find most intriguing. I argued in a previous article that one might interpret Covid-19 as somehow, at least philosophically, related to our connection with our natural surroundings; that non-anthropocentric environmentalists are perhaps quietly – and some not so quietly – asking “is this any surprise”. And that the most striking images of the crisis may be the extraordinary pollution maps of Wuhan and Northern Italy, which show us the result of a world with little human activity.
The UK environmentalist and broadcaster David Attenborough concluded his series Dynasty by bemoaning the fact that man is taking up more and more of the inhabitable planet, reducing the habitable space for wildlife and endangering an increasing number of rare and beautiful animals.
Cue pictures in the last two weeks of wild goats roaming the streets of Llandudno and wild boar wandering around Barcelona. As a nature documentary sound specialist commented on Radio 4 last week, not only can we hear birds much more clearly this spring due to reduced noise pollution, they can hear each other much better, over longer distances.
Covid-19 is first and foremost highlighting any failings in healthcare planning and availability of services. It is shining a light on how society does, or does not function. It is setting us the greatest economic challenge in 80 years. But it should also make us stop and think about how we relate to the natural world around us.
Covid-19 might just be one of those things that nature throws at us every few decades to keep our numbers down, in the absence of natural predators that could fulfill the task. But the virus was spread to humans through poor animal care and an illegal practice of bringing live animals into a human market.
There is no question that nature and the animal kingdom around us are taking a well-earned breather from our extractive, destructive activity, and benefiting from the space and freedom our lack of activity provides.
There is much talk of social renewal through Covid-19; of a return to a more considered, spiritual approach to life. These won’t help much if it isn’t accompanied by a good, long hard look at our failure to live sustainably and our inability to counteract climate change.
If we want to get back to our “old comforts” and consume the way we did before, if we continue to measure our success as a society by the consumptive measure of Gross Domestic Product, if we continue to fail to insist that businesses are judged on more than just delivering “shareholder value”, come what may, we will go back to Square 1.
Worse, we will have failed to make use of this unique, once-in-several generations opportunity to reappraise the way we relate to the natural world we live in.
Worse may also follow. Intensive, industrial livestock farming, coupled with widespread prescription in medical practice, has exposed us to dangerous levels of antibiotics, potentially reducing our ability to combat bacterial infections. Covid-19 is a terrible virus with no cure as yet. If something bacterial follows, with similar global reach, we may be in even greater trouble.
I was speaking with a German friend in the Medinge Group about any “moral significance” of Covid-19. He suggested that, if nothing else, it should make us feel Demut (humility). Nature is humbling us, a tiny micro-organism is bringing the man-made world to a halt.
We occasionally think we have mastered nature, that it exists to serve our needs, and in that misunderstanding of our interrelationship with the ecosystem and all other species in it could lie our ultimate undoing as a species.
 The Medinge Group is an international think tank dedicated to promoting “brands with a conscience”. For more information, please visit www.medinge.org . Please contact the author for further details of our event in Rotterdam in September.
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