Looking through the COVID-19 Lens for a Sustainable New-Modern Society

Seeram Ramakrishna, National University of Singapore, Singapore Suresh Bhargava, RMIT University, Australia

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About seven million people are killed by human activities generated air pollution every year. The current model of modern society is unsustainable. Looking through a COVID-19 lens provides us with an amazing picture outside, showing some innovative pathways on how to live in harmony with nature, i.e. a new-modern society.

Immense disruptions to all economies around the world and ways of living for billions of people in all continents of the Earth caused by COVID-19 pandemic punctuate the unusual year 2020 in history books. COVID-19 battered the health care systems of countries, and supply chains of products and services leveraging the globalized world. Moreover, COVID-19 exacerbated other medical risks too due to the disruption of supply of medicines, devices and allied services. Contrary to these devastating effects, the COVID-19 pandemic had positive outcomes in terms of air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, depletion of natural resources, and climate change. Satellite imagery confirms the reduction of NOx, SOx and other pollutants in all cities of the world. Global efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19 have led to reduced economic activity and an improvement in air quality. Manufacturing led by cement, steel and heavy industries emitted less owing to low demand. The aviation sector contributed less greenhouse gas emissions due to decreased air traffic volume, both passenger and cargo. Land transportation caused reduced pollution due to reduced personal vehicle mobility and lockdowns. The aforementioned led to reduced power and energy consumption. Overall reductions in emissions is estimated to be around ten percent.  

COVID-19 provides an opportunity to rethink everything humans do. Humans brought upon themselves the COVID-19 pandemic by disturbing nature’s ecological balance via excessive food and resource consumption led by population explosion. Infectious diseases expert Dennis Carroll estimated that there are 1.67 million viruses on planet Earth. Fifty percent of them have the potential to infect humans owing to increased frequency of interactions between people and pristine nature. Notable examples of zoonoses include malaria, dengue, avian flu, swine influenza, Zika, anthrax and rabies.

About seven million people are killed by human activities generated air pollution every year. Moreover, the pollution induced effects on human health and damage to Earth's ecology are evident, thus compromising the sustainability of future generations. The current model of modern society is unsustainable. Reversing the clock and going back to pre-modern society built on fulfilling just the needs of humans is not realistic. Sustaining the modern society built on fulfilling the needs and wants of humans requires out of the box thinking. In the current climate of COVID-19, companies are struggling to survive on top of challenges in industry 4.0 or digitization of products and services. How will they be able to think about sustainability while their worry is about resilience, and make the necessary adjustments to their business for the long term? Sustainability has tended to be a secondary priority for many industries and especially SME businesses. Now faced with business survival and viability concerns, what is the status of existing sustainability initiatives in companies and across industries? How has the pandemic affected existing initiatives and longer-term targets, plans and ambitions on the sustainability front?  How can organisations get back on track with regard to their sustainability ambitions e.g. are there synergistic business-led propositions that can serve these aims? What can countries do in terms of sustainability, a circular economy and the Paris agreement to decarbonize while growing shrinking economies and rising employment opportunities?

Using a COVID-19 lens, let us examine opportunities for decarbonisation while not compromising the modern ways of living and economic growth so as to build a new-modern society (Seeram Ramakrishna, Circular Economy and Sustainability Pathways to Build a New-Modern Society, Editorial of the Drying Technology Journal, 2020,  https://doi.org/10.1080/07373937.2020.1758492). Globalization is a causality of the COVID-19 pandemic. Countries and companies will shorten the supply chains and value chains. Globalization will take on newer forms, relying more on digital technologies and the internet. This will be facilitated by yet to emerge innovations in finance and commerce. COVID-19 has had unexpected effects on the food industry. The convenience food has strongly entrenched and spread to more parts of the world. Clean meat is touted as a solution to zoonotic diseases associated with current methods of producing meat from animals. Clean meat is made from plant based, cultivated cells. Hence the carbon footprint is lower than animal sourced meat. However, in some sense the clean meat is akin to genetically modified organisms as it involves selective breeding and hybridization. Human biology adapts slowly to changes which includes food and nutrition. Critics will argue for slow and careful introduction of clean meat to the mass population. Therein lies huge opportunities for innovations, technologies, new jobs and new pathways of economic growth while caring for the Earth. The importance of safe water and its adequate supply is highlighted by the COVID-19. Sustainable futures lie in zero-waste water innovations and technologies. Companies and communities will save money by embracing zero-waste water technologies. Billions of surgical face masks were used as personal protection against the spread of COVID-19. They are designed for single use and disposed of as waste. They are made from plastics derived from the petrochemical raw materials, and hence non-degradable in nature. The single use plastic wastes have been identified for their pollution of marine ecology and subsequent negative effects on the food chain and human health. Science, business, standards, and policy innovations are needed to replace the petrochemical derived plastics with degradable bioplastics derived from the renewable sources. Designing products with end-of-life considerations and life cycle engineering opens up opportunities for economic growth and new jobs while improving the quality of the environment. 

The energy sector is also affected by the COVID-19. Oil futures went into negative. It is an opportune time for governments to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies and invest in renewable energy infrastructure as long-term nation building. Energy businesses need to diversify and build grid level storage and balancing. Perhaps, governments and companies together can accelerate the electrification of transportation. To happen, new jobs and economic growth in vehicle design, manufacturing and digitization must occur, as well as charging infrastructure. The hydrogen industry has had wings for some time. It is critical to realizing the Paris agreement and future zero emissions and a decarbonised economy. Investors and banks need to employ new business models and investment strategies. COVID-19 transformed shopping and brought almost the whole of humanity to online shopping. Online shopping for groceries and food deliveries are on par with electronic goods and accessories. Similarly, on site work has moved to teleworking, and education has moved to online learning and assessment. The aforementioned caused a massive surge in the global usage of digital infrastructure. Digital services for virtual meetings, online learning, telemedical diagnostics, government services, eCommerce, grocery deliveries, e-banking, and entertainment all experienced unprecedented growth in demand. The hyper scale data centers with their 24x7x365 resilient operation, are the heart of digital transformation. Looking into the coming decade, the introduction of 5G will further accelerate the digital transformation era with its clear alignment with Industrial 4.0, in which real time data and automation will power more of the industrial world. However, the consumption of environmental resources that are critical to data centers are becoming increasingly scarce. Hence, triple zero (carbon, emissions, waste) sustainable approaches and a circular mind set are musts for Data Center companies to realize bottom lines and effectively support UN SDG goals to tackle climate change.  

Clear messages emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic include, the digital transformation is a necessity to keep society running; mental health is important for the general well-being and productivity of a person; and a healthy living environment is a basic human right. The circular economy vision, decarbonisation and sustainability efforts to mitigate climate change thus create opportunities for sustained economic growth and the creation of new jobs. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has led all of us to rethink our current ways, and given impetus and determination to transition into a sustainable new-modern society.

Seeram Ramakrishna, FREng

Editorial board member, National University of Singapore

Circular Economy of Materials, Materials Engineering, Nanotechnology, Sustainability

33 Comments

Go to the profile of Jingcheng
Jingcheng 6 months ago

A comprehensive summary on the impacts of COVID-19, raised inspirations on transform our society to a sustainable new form.

Go to the profile of Ng Pei Kang
Ng Pei Kang 6 months ago

Can you share some case studies on synergistic business-led propositions?  

Go to the profile of Mohamedazeem
Mohamedazeem 6 months ago

The way of your perspective to connect covid-19 with new moder society was amazing Prof. I hope this kind of writing will change the perspective of young research scholars like me to approach innovatively.

Go to the profile of Yingchun
Yingchun 6 months ago

Thank you very much for such inspiring article to us! We know the falling of one leaf heralds the autumn, and do believe there is a better future in the coming new-modern society. 

Go to the profile of Wayne Hu
Wayne Hu 6 months ago

Enlightening points for the future works on Sustainability!

Go to the profile of Xudong Wu
Xudong Wu 6 months ago

The sky in my hometown used to be gray. Fortunately, it has become blue recently due to covid-19.

Go to the profile of Sunpreet Singh
Sunpreet Singh 6 months ago

A very insightful writeup on the COVID-19 crisis. 

Go to the profile of Firoozeh
Firoozeh 6 months ago

I do agree with you that COVID19 provided an opportunity to think more carefully about everything humans do, and to have a sustainable society, we as researchers should pay more attention to a topic like safe water, food, education. I believe the outcome of this COVID 19 lens will be helpful for all of us to shape our future research.

Go to the profile of VISHNU
VISHNU 6 months ago

Dear Prof, 

Highly insightful and well explained writing. You are constantly motivating and inspiring  us to think sustainably and provide value to the community. 

Thanks

Go to the profile of Qing Su
Qing Su 6 months ago

I have read this innovative and comprehensive essay and it indeed makes me think more deeply about what the COVID19 brings to our lives and what I learned from it are as follows:

(1)I am inspired by your novel angle to look through the COVID19, and its positive sides in relationship between human and environment in this essay resonates with me. Because my father is a pediatrician, and he told me that there fewer pediatric patients during this period since everyone put on their masks which can efficiently block the spread of various diseases and less air pollution leading to less respiratory diseases occurrences, which make me think that maybe under the climate of COVID19, many of us should reflect our previous lifestyles.

(2)As for the effect on industrial production by COVID19, what I knew from the CCTV news is that many small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are facing the crisis of bankrupt and our government has taken many measures, such as helping them get the loan, to encourage them, especially those new energy and technology enterprises, to transform their modes of production to produce more with less workers. With the COVID19 situation becoming more and more stable, many people return to work and production gradually, but those modes of production can be continued. To some extent, the COVID19 surely promotes the process of companies transformation.

There are all-round aspects in your essay to analyze what is the COVID19 effect on many fields, such as food, clean water and energy which provide new angle and analysis framework. What I find in your essay is superficial because of my slight experience and I truly admire you for your wide range of knowledge and thinking depth and efforts.

Go to the profile of Elaheh Kowsari
Elaheh Kowsari 6 months ago


Dear Professor, I truly appreciate your time for sharing excellent paper and the brilliant ideas.
 Living in harmony with nature improves our thinking ability.
 It offers an alternative approach to current thinking and practice that can guide humanity towards a more holistic, peaceful, and balanced future.
 Dose the world need a new Multilateral Investment Agreement?

Go to the profile of M UTHAYAKUMAR
M UTHAYAKUMAR 6 months ago

Nice Sir..informative

Go to the profile of Erfan Rezvani
Erfan Rezvani 6 months ago

Dear Prof, looking to the global events resulted from the special situation created by COVID-19, caused to reconsider human activities. Specially about our environmental activities. I think this insightful paper can help us to learn new lessons for our future and informs us of how to be prepared. Thanks for sharing this paper. 

Go to the profile of Alfred
Alfred 6 months ago

Through Science and Technology, humans have constantly strived to conquer nature instead of living symbiotically with it. Several major disasters have reminded humans to refrain this approach, but there has not been a shift. Using the COVID-19 pandemic, this article has laid out in simple and clear details what has gone wrong with human’s relationship with nature and what needs to be done to fix it. Very insightful. Bravo Prof!

Go to the profile of Balaji Rao Garimells
Balaji Rao Garimells 6 months ago

Prof a very interesting article, your mention of the aerospace industry's contribution to greenn house gases opens up discussion on future of aerospace industry. The aerospace industry will undergo a big transformation, Gone will be days of budget travel, for the next few years the cost or travel will go up and number of persons per flight will come down. Aviation sector may well be in for a big change.

Your article is thought provoking. 

Go to the profile of Atif Aziz
Atif Aziz 6 months ago

Very interesting and informative article. COVID-19 has created many new opportunities, which are very well highlighted in this article. It is a prime time to change our lives to more sustainable living. On the flip side, in the next few years, we are going to lose millions of conventional jobs due to COVID-19 lead recession. Let us hope that new opportunities offset some of these losses. It is for sure that to survive these times, everyone needs to be very very innovative.

Go to the profile of Alin Dragomir
Alin Dragomir 6 months ago

Wonderful article Prof.Seeram. I want to congratulate you for opening our eyes to the unsustainable attitude of the world in which we live. You have very well pointed out that this situation created by the COVID19 pandemic can represent the reset moment of the way we have to think about the actions we intend to take. We should leave our great-grandchildren a planet with a blue sky, clean waters, forests and natural resources, that should be the focus on a sustainable development. COVID19 should make us less selfish and understand that the planet is not just for our generation. Sustainability.

Go to the profile of Ayman M. Mohamed
Ayman M. Mohamed 6 months ago

These are very judicious thoughts. I had a very good time reading this article.

Go to the profile of Yasmin Mohamed Abdelrahman

Wow ❤️
Great work💪
What a persuasive article👌
Even the cited editorial was very amazing too👌

Go to the profile of Sumedha
Sumedha 6 months ago

I agree, a lot of the industries/ functions mentioned in the article are all going to change, and the question that was posed around Resilience vs Sustainability is a very interesting one. Most of the companies, a majority of which are SMEs are only thinking resilience, the impact on them is the biggest both economic and social and they would want to think about getting back in track or whatever is the new normal asap.

With the economy on the down-slide, it will be interesting to see how systems will react to this change. This situation has done a lot of good to our environment, at whatever cost, but it is nothing compared to how much more needs to be done to reverse the damage of decades of irresponsibility.

It was really great to hear your thoughts, Prof.

Go to the profile of Anand Ganesh Venkatesan

Very informative and insightful article. Covid19 has exposed the weeknesses of our modern society. Transformaton is needed in all sectors and I hope the new modern society is built in harmonious with nature.

Go to the profile of Susanna Kass
Susanna Kass 5 months ago

Thank you for sharing. Excellent writeup of a very important topic to guide our thinking of how to stay resilient and act responsibly to our society. These are unprecedented times - we are in the midst of a humanitarian crisis, an economic crisis and an environmental crisis and they are all interconnected. 

Go to the profile of Dr Md Enamul Hoque
Dr Md Enamul Hoque 5 months ago

Indeed, this is an eye-opening truly guiding information for the intellectuals who should think forward with the realization that we the human are helpless without the favor and blessings of nature. Seemingly, the world went almost out of control/obedience and this COVID-19 pandemic taught us how to obey that I believe the human must continue for the true sustainability in this temporal world as well as the success in the perpetual hereafter. May the Almighty guide and help mankind.  

Go to the profile of Chetanath Neupane
Chetanath Neupane 5 months ago

Such a great article which projects the ways for whole  humanity to the better sustainable world.

Go to the profile of Saumyam Dwivedi
Saumyam Dwivedi 5 months ago

Great words by Professor,  which can help us realign our minds after this catastrophic event , towards a constructive and sustainable approach to regain economic momentum without compromising our mental health and well-being. 

 

 

 

Go to the profile of David Newman
David Newman 5 months ago

Dear Professor, thannks for you excellent article. Here below are two complementary pieces I have written in recent weeks which I hope are of use to you and the audience. Thanks, David Newman

 

AIR QUALITY AND HEALTH in the times of Covid-19

by David Newman, President, World Biogas Association

The production and use of biogas, and in particular biomethane, is known to help improve air quality by offering a green alternative to fossil fuels as a source of electricity, heat and transport fuel, as well as by avoiding harmful gases going into the atmosphere through anaerobic digestion treatment of organic matter such as food waste, sewage and manure. Not only does biomethane support climate change mitigation, it also has important implications for people's health - contributing towards achieving the UN Sustainability Development Goal No 3 of ensuring healthy lives.

As the world fights the Covid-19 pandemic, research has shown that the impact of the virus is particularly severe in the most polluted areas.  Here, WBA president David Newman reviews the latest scientific findings about the connection between air quality, health, and Covid-19.

 

As we enter the month of May - the fifth month since China announced the existence of a new mutation of a contagious coronavirus - researchers and academics have now had time to review not just how the virus became a pandemic so rapidly, but where the virus has had the most fatal impacts.

I have been following this discussion and there has been an increasing number of papers, research articles and statements, linking the fatality and the spread of the virus to air quality.  None of these yet prove this correlation with absolutely certainty, but the evidence is more than circumstantial.

The evidence indicates two links between the intensity of the spread and its fatality rate, and air quality.

The first correlation is that poor air quality is already damaging our health.  Therefore, we are weaker, more at risk, more susceptible to infectious diseases. Deaths from poor air quality are already in their millions each year across the planet. 90% of us breathe dirty air and some 7 million of us will die from illnesses directly linked to that-  far more than those who will be killed by Covid-19 in 2020. [1]  The data are from the WHO.  To quote them, air pollution helps cause diseases such as “stroke, heart disease, lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases and respiratory infections, including pneumonia.” You do not need to be a genius to understand that the coronavirus will have an easier time infecting and killing people who are already weakened by one of those listed illnesses.

It is absolutely no coincidence that the city of Wuhan where the virus originated and first spread, is the 4th most polluted city in the world [2] according to the World Air Quality index. I am sure none of us even knew where Wuhan was until January 2020.  The northern Italian region with the highest fatalities, east of Milan, is also the area with the worst air quality (Lombardy);  the map below draws a direct correlation, but I would advise we take this evidence with caution at present.

 

The Italian situation: on the left, pollution levels of microparticulate. On the right, the diffusion of the Coronavirus pandemic. Image from the article by Setti et al.

 

The second piece of evidence which is quite worrying is that the virus is actually carried by air pollution – it sticks to PM10, PM25 particles and remains airborne until these fall to earth.  As it is airborne, it is more likely to be inhaled.  This suggests that where air pollution contains more Particulate Matter, there may be higher concentrations of virus circulating. This research is still in its early days and once again more data will be available as scientists have time to investigate.

Scientists also need to take other factors into consideration when they analyse the spread and the fatality rates of the virus- age, economic status, obesity, ethnicity, population density, exposure to risk, access to healthcare, are all key elements determining those. Italy has an elderly population, Lombardy is its most densely inhabited region, so air quality is just one factor. The evidence therefore is not yet conclusive, as I have said, but we will probably see future proof that when all other factors are taken into consideration, air quality will be a determinant.  The Economist even suggests that preliminary analysis shows that cigarette smokers are less likely to suffer the illness, certainly not a recommendation to light up.

The case for clean air is not some abstract issue for the future- it is here and now. Those cities that have adopted clean air policies, using biogas for example as a fuel for transport systems, are likely to be among those that will have lower fatality rates.  Be warned, this is just the first virus to be a pandemic, others will certainly follow, so clean air now is an imperative to save lives.

Listed for you in the footnotes, for your further exploration,  are the articles I have consulted in writing this piece.[3]  Of course they are not exhaustive, nor are they totally conclusive. But they show that we ought to be concerned in any case because the correlation between poor air and health was anyway already established - even without the virus having to prove it again.  And how.

[1] http://www9.who.int/airpollution/en/

[2] https://www.iqair.com/world-air-quality-ranking

[3] https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-a-warming-climate-could-affect-the-spread-of-diseases-similar-to-covid-19/

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/mar/28/with-the-climate-crisis-and-coronavirus-bearing-down-on-us-the-age-of-disconnection-is-over

https://www.eenews.net/stories/1062893583

https://projects.iq.harvard.edu/covid-pm

https://interestingengineering.com/scientists-find-correlation-between-air-pollution-and-covid-19-mortality

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/apr/07/air-pollution-linked-to-far-higher-covid-19-death-rates-study-finds

https://www.lemonde.fr/planete/article/2020/03/30/coronavirus-la-pollution-de-l-air-est-un-facteur-aggravant-alertent-medecins-et-chercheurs_6034879_3244.html

https://www.economist.com/science-and-technology/2020/05/02/smokers-seem-less-likely-than-non-smokers-to-fall-ill-with-covid-19

https://www.lifegate.it/persone/news/coronavirus-inquinamento-smog-aria

https://it.businessinsider.com/sembra-che-il-covid-19-colpisca-piu-duro-nella-aree-piu-inquinate-e-lo-stop-allinquinamento-salvera-decine-di-migliaia-di-vite/

https://espresso.repubblica.it/attualita/2020/03/22/news/si-lo-smog-aiuta-il-virus-ecco-gli-studi-che-lo-avevano-previsto-1.346000

https://cassandralegacy.blogspot.com/2020/03/italy-virus-hits-polluted-areas-is.html

https://www.edie.net/news/4/UN--4-2-billion-people-without-sanitation-amid-coronavirus---and-climate-change-set-to-worsen-the-problem/

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/apr/21/preliminary-study-links-air-pollution-to-coronavirus-deaths-in-england

https://www.agi.it/cronaca/news/2020-04-24/inquinamento-particolato-coronavirus-sima-8427205/

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The BBC and the CNN reported on April 2nd that the leaders of the USA oil industry are heading to see the President to ask for support as oil prices crash to almost zero in some market places.[1] On this news, prices rose again with the hope the USA will close the doors to low cost Saudi oil, or that the Saudis and Russians will reach a deal to reduce production.[2]

Well, I couldn’t help thinking. I mean, with some time on my hands, there’s a lot of thinking going on.

On the one hand Governments in every country will borrow trillions (dollars, euros, pounds, yen, francs) and pump them into the economy to kick start it again after what will be months of lockdown.  Where will this money be spent and who will benefit?  What is the model determining how this money is spent? Will it go (as in most countries I think it will) to rebooting the old model? Or will it go (as some more intelligent governments might understand) in redesigning the model altogether?

In those months we will lose some 5-10% of global oil capacity as bankruptcies disrupt production due to the collapse in use- down some 25% already- and prices, down to around $20/barrel.   These same oil industry chiefs running to the White House are the paladins of small government, low taxes, low regulation, big business, open borders, free trade. Until they are in trouble, then suddenly they are the paladins of Government intervention, protectionist tariffs, minimum pricing, tax payer money to protect them.

These same industry chiefs are the people who successfully lobbied the White House to reduce the standards on emissions so their industries could produce without the need to reduce pollution[3]. It is these same people who are now asking (and will receive) support to produce, pollute and survive with our money, whilst using that money to destroy the environment we all live in.  I call this hypocrisy at the highest level. It is quite shocking given everything we know.

It is this same group of people that deny what the scientists have been saying for decades about how we are destroying our Planet, warming the climate, reducing our resilience through the destruction of biodiversity, forests, natural habitats. COVID-19 just did what 5 decades of scientists failed to do. It proved the science to be right.

On a positive note, the lockdown has shown how quickly we can adapt, how we generally obey, how resilient we can be in the face of a totally unpredictable global event. We just got hit by a metaphoric meteorite but we are all surviving. That is quite incredible. Well done humanity!

What next?

If we have intelligent governments they will think: hmmm, lots of money to spend, where do we want to be in 10, 20 years time once that money works its way through the system?  What will work best FOR OUR PEOPLE ? After all, Governments govern for the benefit of their people don’t they ? So what works best ?

  1. We need clean air, water, food. Once we start to mess around with those three essentials, Humanity is screwed.  No small wonder the virus started in an open market in a heavily polluted city where people were buying snakes, bats, dogs to eat.  Dirty air weakens our lungs, viruses have a field day jumping from animals to humans as we destroy the habitats animals live in; and here we are. So priority number one, we need to invest to clean up our air, water and food supply chain.

We can do this with renewable energy, including biogas, electric cars, etc. We have all the technologies we need, here, now, to implement a clean air, water and food policy immediately.  And we’ll be spending trillions, so put them here. That will good for the climate too. The biogas industry can reduce those emissions 12%. [4] Why don’t we do it, now?

  1. We need to make non-essentials expensive to dissuade people from using them. It is clear that all this running around to meetings and conferences left, right and centre is generally unnecessary. Whilst a trade show needs person to person interaction, conferences are going to become virtual events. So, invest some of the trillions in making sure the infrastructure works to support that, including fast broadband everywhere, especially developing countries so they are connected into the global commons too. Tax air tickets for their Co2 emissions. Double the price of petrol as we did with cigarettes. Make local public transport free, as Luxembourg has done.  Use petrol taxes to subsidise and invest in rail travel.

I’ll miss the beaches in the Med, but hey, if the weather is kind the Cornish Riviera’s not bad- or I will take the train south. Imagine getting from London to the Costa Brava in 5 hours on a train? We have the technology to do that, we just need to invest to make it happen.

  1. The virus just showed us how essential public services are. As some comic recently said, all those people who voted against socialism (in the UK) in October 2019 are now clamouring for investments into the social state.  So make sure that some of those trillions go into creating the capacity for social care when the next emergency hits (warning, it will).  We need to pay our essential workers a proper living wage. I am deeply ashamed that people are risking their lives for me and are struggling themselves to pay their bills.  It is inhuman, disgusting, unacceptable.
  2. Lastly, let’s consign the oil [5] dinosaurs of the 20th century to the history books. People will look back on this in 50 years time and say, how could they have been so stupid ? How come they bought into the narrative that polluting our air, water and lands is good ? How come they even subsidised that with their own tax payers money? Not only were they poisoning themselves, they were paying to be poisoned! People will be laughing and shaking their heads in disbelief, just like we do today when we think about how, just years back, we allowed nuclear bombs to be tested in the open air, lead in petrol, asbestos in our buildings, chemicals in our food, despite knowing they were all deadly.

I hope we are all not so stupid as to continue this narrative.  If nothing else, the time COVID-19 has given us should also stimulate us to changing our behaviour and forcing Governments to do so too.  Maybe the next time around we won’t have that opportunity if the next virus is more powerful.  We’ve been given a warning by Nature, let’s heed it.

David Newman, April 2nd 2020

(the views expressed here are personal and do not reflect the position of any organisation I represent or work with)

[1][1] https://edition.cnn.com/2020/04/01/business/oil-prices-crash-storage-space/index.html

[2] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-52115442?intlink_from_url=https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/topics/cx1m7zg0g25t/oil-gas-industry&link_location=live-reporting-story

[3] https://thehill.com/opinion/energy-environment/490431-the-pandemic-hasnt-stopped-trumps-rollback-of-clean-car-standards

[4] https://www.worldbiogasassociation.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/WBA-globalreport-56ppa4_digital.pdf.

[5] The oil industry is also responsible for 99% of the world’s plastic output.

 

Go to the profile of Susana Arrechea
Susana Arrechea 5 months ago

This is a good article about Covid-19 impact. Researchers and politicians in Guatemala and around the globe are learning this lessons and visualizationabout circular economy.

Go to the profile of Rulin Liu
Rulin Liu 5 months ago

Professor Seeram Ramakrishna briefly summarizes the profound impact of the COVID-19 on the world, and simply analyzes that its development has a lot to do with the air quality. The impact of the epidemic also causes the emission reduction of polluting gases, which also brings us new thinking and opportunities. On this basis, Professor Seeram Ramakrishna puts forward that healthy living environment is people's demand for the sustainable development of nature and society. Therefore, the quality and prevention of air quality is also the trend direction that we should deeply understand and study, and strive to contribute to the construction of a new modern society with sustainable development. This view is interesting and novel , which is of great social significance. After reading the impressive article, I has a deeper understanding of the impact of the COVID-19.

Go to the profile of stefen chow
stefen chow 5 months ago

Dear Prof, 

There is a silver lining in every situation we see. Thanks for highlighting what is important to look forward to after the pandemic is settled. 

History will judge us, and what we do determines the path future generations will take. 

Go to the profile of June Li
June Li 5 months ago

It's an inspiring article which makes people reflect on our behaviors - of course we should have done this long before the COVID-19 outbreak,  and will always keep on doing it in future. What we do to the nature will always find its way back to ourselves, it's just a matter of time.  
     However, to build a sustainable new modern society definitely needs international cooperation, i.e. all countries work in accordance and comply to related agreement such as Paris agreement. Which, in my opinion, is still a long way to go. 

Go to the profile of Ranjan Mishra
Ranjan Mishra 5 months ago

Thank you very much Prof. Seeeram for a very interesting article. Certainly, COVID-19 has put a temporary brake in globalization. Now, there are two possibilities- either we reverse back from globalization and go back to nature or take an alternative route to a sustainable modern economy. You have shown an alternative route, suggesting how some of the aspects of the economy and the human civilization can be modernized. In the end, it is all about becoming resilient towards our unforeseeable future. Soon, another global crisis can hit us heard and can completely change our lens on how we look at things. As you point it very rightly, we have to find innovative strategies that do not only simplify our lives but also keep us in harmony with nature.

Go to the profile of Meisam Tabatabaei
Meisam Tabatabaei 5 months ago

Well-put! I cannot agree more with you Seeram!

The so-called Sustainable Development we have been clinging to has been proven ineffective and defective in many ways, I am afraid!
Liked the New-Modern Society; brilliant! There`s much to be done in various domains; maybe the most urgent one would be re-defining what we have been calling "Education", we probably should re-define "Public Health" in parallel too. Much to be done, truly much and that has to be really quick before reaching the beginning of an END!

Once again, did enjoy reading through the article!
Meisam

Go to the profile of S Venkata Mohan
S Venkata Mohan 4 months ago

Dear Dr Ramakrishna

It is very nice to read your article ‘Looking through the COVID-19 Lens for a Sustainable New-Modern Society’ which came at the pertinent time during SARS-CoV-2 outbreak. The interlinking pandemic situation with sustainability issues and advocating the need for living hormonally with nature towards achieving new-modern society is thought-provoking and at the same time much need to counter-balance the ecosystem functions and anthropogenic activities in equilibrium.  The dreadful COVID-19 pandemic is an inevitable consequence of the rapid human population expansion and the unconstrained use of the Earth’s natural capital. The problem is that that these resources are finite and non-renewable and over-harvesting these resources are leading to depletion resources, pollution and climate change, biodiversity loss threatening the prospects of our existence. We are using Earth’s natural resources 1.6 times faster than it can replenish and the human population far surpasses the carrying capacity of the Earth (https://www.overshootday.org/). According to the Global Footprint Network, food demand contributes to 26% of the ecological footprint and carbon footprint contributes to 60% of humanity’s ecological footprint (https://www.footprintnetwork.org/2019/04/25/press-release-humanitys-ecological-footprint-contracted-between-2014-and-2016/). It is worth noting that the demand for resources is a major cause for the ecological footprints.

The present pandemic is a clear hint for what nature may have in store and surely it’s high time to look at our linear economy thorough an eco-centric lens and rewire it to a circular economy. Circular economy advocates re-utilization of materials in an effective and sustainable way to replenish the existing resources and bring about positive economic growth (McArthur 2013; Braungart and McDonough, 2009; Carus and Dammer, 2018; Lacy and Rutqvist, 2016). The technical and biological materials which are generally discarded can be looped back. The biogenic materials usually witness end-of-life, leading to the loss of value that is embodied in them (Venkata Mohan et al., 2020). Adopting a ‘circular economy model’ will create greater opportunities for de-carbonization counteracting the resource depletion and pollution issues in a unified approach (McArthur 2013). Circularity is a key requirement to retain the resources in the system by adding value.  Circularity and carbon-neutrality can help in developing a sustainable bioeconomy, which can benefit both economic and climatic conditions. In climate change mitigation, biosequestering CO2 via photosynthesis plays a critical role in transforming carbon to biobased products and using them in a circular approach (Venkata Mohan et al., 2016a).  The way we produce food should also be changed by minimizing the use of fertilizers (https://www.biobasedpress.eu/2019/01/circular-agriculture-the-model-ofthe- future/). The current food practices which contribute to 26% of the ecological footprints need to shift for circular economy practices. In order to make the most out of food waste (non-edible or expired) that is inevitably generated and generally landfilled can be used as the primary feedstock for the production of biofuels, biomaterials, etc. accounting for sustainable resource recovery (Dahiya et al., 2018). The traditional eco-friendly agricultural practices such as mixed farming, smart rotation, etc. can be employed with circular and regenerative approaches. In order to recover resources from waste, integrated systems such as waste biorefineries are gaining ground and should become an inherent component of any waste management systems (Venkata Mohan et al., 2016b). The idea is to develop a waste-free system wherein a mix of reuse options are employed by considering waste itself as a most profitable alternative. Material flows from different biorefinery plants can also be exchanged, such that the waste from one system becomes a raw material for another process, in a symbiosis network (Fan and Fang, 2019). This will facilitate the development of integrated clusters of bioprocessing plants, located close to one another and function synergistically facilitating maximum utilization of resources (Lacy and Rutqvist, 2016). It is time for us now look back and collectively transform with a motive for sustainable global living by adopting/mimicking the natures own biomimicry principles in the design (Aversa et al., 2016).

References

  1. https://www.footprintnetwork.org/2019/04/25/press-release-humanitys-ecological-footprint-contracted-between-2014-and-2016/ - Accessed on 11th June 2020.
  2. https://www.overshootday.org/- Accessed on 11th June 2020.
  3. https://www.biobasedpress.eu/2019/01/circular-agriculture-the-model-ofthe- future/- Accessed on 11th June 2020.
  4. Aversa, R., Petrescu, R.V., Petrescu, F.I., Apicella, A., 2016. Biomimetic and evolutionary design-driven innovation in sustainable products development. American Journal of Engineering and Applied Sciences. 9 (4).
  5. Braungart, M., McDonough, W., 2009. Cradle to Cradle. Remaking the Way we make Things. North Point Press, New York.
  6. Carus, M., Dammer, L., 2018. The “circular bioeconomy” – concepts, opportunities and limitations. Industrial Biotechnology. 14 (2), 83–91.
  7. Dahiya, S., Kumar, A.N., Sravan, J.S., Chatterjee, S., Sarkar, O., Venkata Mohan, S., 2018. Food waste biorefinery: sustainable strategy for circular bioeconomy. Bioresource Technology. 248, 2–12.
  8. Fan, Y., Fang, Y., 2019. Research on the synergy of urban system operation—Based on the perspective of urban metabolism. Science of the Total Environment. 662, 446–454.
  9. Lacy, P., Rutqvist, J., 2016. Waste to Wealth: The Circular Economy Advantage. Springer.
  10. McArthur, F.E., 2013. Towards the Circular Economy Vol. 1: an economic and business rationale for an accelerated transition. Ellen McArthur.
  11. Venkata Mohan, S., Modestra, J.A., Amulya, K., Butti, S.K., Velvizhi, G., 2016a. A circular bioeconomy with biobased products from CO2 sequestration. Trends in Biotechnology 34 (6), 506–519.
  12. Venkata Mohan, S., Nikhil, G.N., Chiranjeevi, P., Reddy, C.N., Rohit, M.V., Kumar, A.N., Sarkar, O., 2016b. Waste biorefinery models towards sustainable circular bioeconomy: critical review and future perspectives. Bioresource. Technology. 215, 2–12.
  13. Venkata Mohan, S., Dahiya, S., Amulya, K., Katakojwala, R., Vanitha, T.K., 2019. Can circular bioeconomy be fueled by waste biorefineries—a closer look. Bioresource Technology Reports, 7, 100277.
  14. Venkata Mohan, S., Amulya, K., Modestra, J.A., 2020. Urban Biocycles-Closing Metabolic Loops for Resilient and Regenerative Ecosystem: A Perspective. Bioresource Technology, 123098.