With the world coping with a pandemic unprecedented in our lifetimes, it is important to take time on this 50th anniversary of the original Earth Day to explore what this crisis can tell us about our need and ability to protect the planet and ourselves. In this two-part series, we examine what we can learn as individuals and as investors.
Washington - As the 50th anniversary of the first Earth Day approaches, few of us are planning to observe the day as we might like. Plans to volunteer as a group or community to clean up local parks or roadways are not options because of the social distancing required to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. We are limited to the portion of Earth that encompasses our home for the time being.
And yet, we know now more than ever how our health and well-being can be impacted by human behavior, as events that began in China have spread throughout the world. Actions people take can have implications that go far beyond their neighborhoods or geopolitical borders. Like a virus, carbon emissions, air and water pollution, and the misuse and overuse of natural resources impact health and well-being globally, no matter where the source of the problem occurs.
In response to the pandemic, both individuals and companies have changed behavior in order to reduce the spread of COVID-19. All of us have stopped traveling and are staying at home except for essential errands - and reducing our fossil fuel use as a result. Companies that can allow their employees to work from home generally are doing so. Some businesses are retooling their operations to make products needed by first responders, switching the production lines from things such as vehicles and sports equipment to produce ventilators and masks instead. Those that find the need to reduce staffs are increasingly taking steps to consider worker needs, stating that any furloughs are temporary and maintaining health benefits.
If we had been asked if we were capable of making some of these radical changes a few months ago, the answer would have been "impossible" -- but we have all shown a capacity to accept rapid change given the clear and immediate risk to our health and lives, even if that causes us to be personally inconvenienced. The next step could be to apply a similar level of rigor to combatting issues that affect the planet, such as climate change.
We can do it
There are no bright sides to a global pandemic, but there are lessons we can learn that will be beneficial in better times to come.
The COVID-19 response is teaching us is that we all - individuals, corporations and governments -- can make the changes necessarily to benefit the planet and society. Moreover, we can do so quickly and decisively once we determine that the risks of maintaining the status quo are too great to bear. These types of decisions are going to arrive more frequently as the effects of climate change become more pronounced. We should be prepared to act accordingly and look for the businesses that we invest in to do the same.
Bottom line: Making behavioral changes to protect the planet are possible. We are seeing that in the news every day. What we learn from the response to COVID-19 can provide an indication of what is possible going forward - and what else needs to be done.