Life After This (Current) Virus..

By Andrew Sebastian
Andrew Sebastian

Spoiler alert! This may well be another all-too-familiar-rant about mankind and Covid-19. But hopefully, not so much about how this all started, who to blame, how it’s ‘payback’ for all past century’s worth of environmental genocide that we have unleashed to the natural world and how are we going to survive living in solitude. This is a monologue for a hopeful future, should we survive with grace and humility, over the current predicament!

To summarise for nostalgia sake, here’s what we have so far – Some people make a very good living developing medicines and they salivate when there’s an outbreak. Some people also swear on the stars and moon that eating certain wildlife parts will give you longevity and impress the sex partners. Some people hunt wildlife and make a living too. Some politicians think forests and natural sites are theirs to develop and think it’s a great idea to cut down said forests and develop over wetlands.

Some people in their industries make deals with politicians to make such deals happen. Some scientists dedicate their lives writing and proving that climate change is real and scream for action notably since 1992 in Rio and in Kyoto in 1997. Some even say about 75 percent of all emerging infectious diseases in humans are coming from wildlife and animals.

Some say that over 40 percent of our prescription medicines come from plant extracts and plant compounds. Some people disregard experts, NGOs, activists, local communities and others whose end game is not to enrich their lives and make it to next year’s Forbes list but to champion and speak out for an idea that everyone lives with some quality of life!

Some people say now that the world’s in recession, jobs lost, income obliterated and our immediate economic future is hanging on the balance of statistics and virus trends. Some people say that the MCO will extend well into mid-May 2020. Some say the developing world (us included) will need about US$2.5 trillion support package to help our economies. Some say our Tourism industry (the 2nd highest earner for Malaysia) will need a full year to recover.

Some say that at least mother Earth is actually doing good now that we have scaled down our activities, cutting down our carbon and greenhouse gas diarrhoea. Some say this is good lesson to mankind. Some say that we as a species cannot make the same mistakes and this is our ‘reset’ button. Some say they are convinced that mankind has gone far too long in its egoistic path, to change.

Some say going back to ‘normal’ may be the final nail in our coffin. Some say that when this Covid-19 episode blows over, we will go back to the way we were – all the way back to 17th March 2020 with more selfish and destructive rigour! Some say that the cure for Covid-19 can be found in the bile of bears!

Some ask, and this is truly the 7.8 billion people on earth question – what’s the next best step for us? And I mean the big picture! In one scenario, we all get wiped out, or a good portion of us and the world thrives without Homo sapiens. In another, we strive for a better tomorrow. 

An amazing article ‘Towards a post-Covid-19 new development paradigm: The Planetary Health solution’ by Dr Nicole de Paula and Stefanos Fotiou sets us on what I believe, on the right platform. They postulate and bring into our radar, the term, ‘Planetary Health’ coined by Richard Horton in 2014. They quoted their references, in defining the term Planetary Health as “the health of human civilization and the state of the natural systems on which it depends”. The article continues and nails the narrative that “At the core of planetary health is the belief that humans will stay healthy only if they conduct their economic activities within the physical limits that ensure the health of ecosystems”. In short, our activities-health-environment must be treated as one! I implore that all of you read this and you’ll agree that this material must be made compulsory reading (and with colorful photos / diagrams for all politicians!) and also be made part of our Rukun Negara as a ‘social contract’ with mother nature!

So, to embrace this notion, we have to completely rethink the way we do our business. Everyone. For the government, we need to restructure the various government ministries, integrate and negate silo policy, structures and resources. As envisaged in our religions, stewardship of our natural world must become priority #1. Imagine environmental awareness becomes compulsory subject and outdoor learning and field trips becomes part of our curriculum and part of all inter-agency team building!

Imagine our tourism and industries aligned. Ecotourism becoming our main provider to the world. Our health ministry and natural resources amalgamated. Our fisheries and plantations meet with world standards while protecting natural resources and nurturing local communities. The ministries and departments of water, natural resources, environment, land, climate change, orang asli affairs are finally combined and not in 3 or 4 different portfolios currently. Yes, politicians usually divide us and make deals for ministerial posts but no, they can’t do this or rather, we can’t allow them to do this as we are a country run by the will of the people. Practicality and common sense must give way eventually to good governance. This can and will happen.    

Land matters and natural resources, conveniently used in pitting the state and federal governments (and yes, the Constitution!) in the man-made political area, must be rationalised if we want to not only survive and thrive as a nation.  

In terms of leaders – let’s combine for a moment, someone like Datuk Dr Noor Hisham (and more people of his stature and professionalism), true greenie like Gurmit Singh, financial icons and successful corporate leaders, the Academy of Sciences, legal maestros, our universities and think tanks, put them in a room for a Council of Leaders (not Elders) and get onto a roadmap. Use this and school the politicians. Empower the various Director Generals of all government agencies to do their jobs as professionals, ministers act only as a check and balance! Embrace our beloved King & royals to be our new champions. Use our religious leanings for the better, not to divide.      

At the obvious risk of sounding even more dreamy, preachy even – all this will only work if we, the people, the masses, align ourselves to the simple facts – we cannot live as we have prior to 17th March. We must make changes in ourselves, demand better leadership from the people we put in power and sacrifice as much as we can or called upon for the time being.

Earth Day is just around the corner – 22nd April! Isn’t it time for us to truly celebrate our earth meaningfully? Shall we plant for trees and scrubs? Shall we make it a point to learn more about nature? Can we use less plastics? Perhaps we leave our wildlife alone? Shall we nurture & celebrate the 50 percent of natural forests that’s left for us?

I hope we will survive this by earning our place and not by default.

The views expressed by the writer here are solely his and do not reflect that of NNN or the Malaysian National News Agency (BERNAMA)