COVID Metamorphosis - Truths & Unicorns :
The pandemic has turned the world as we know it upside down and while we are cocooned in lockdowns of varying degrees, we thought we would reflect on some hard truths and likely unicorns. There’s much ground to cover on these, so this month we narrow our focus to one aspect - metamorphosis of business-as-usual - from aviation to fast fashion; and on the water front, medical wastewater treatment in Wuhan to making electricity from raindrops.
Business-as-usual is sticky but then… along came a virus which has caused blanket disruption globally. Suddenly, governments, corporates and small businesses are forced to rethink their survival. Now, we have a chance to reimagine a new future - to reset and redefine business for long term good and not just short term profits.
But can we? We ponder some hard truths on what “emerging on the other side” means – is the US prematurely killing the opportunity to morph with its US$2trn bailout? What’s China’s new norm going to be? With no one to trade with, will it fast track business unusual and reforms for Beautiful China? What’s the future of money?
The pandemic has also shown that governments are willing to put ‘saving lives’ ahead of ‘making money’ by shutting down non-essential business and events. But with pressure to reopen the economy and the fixation on when we will return to normal, we contemplate lessons learnt from COVID-19 - can they help governments and industries better prepare for climate change?
Surely it’s time that aviation and oil industries rethink their future? After all, with inevitable sea level rise, no one flying will turn into nowhere to land; even oil assets are not immune to climate threats. They had better use this down time to prepare for the inevitable transition to low-carbon economy. If we have learned anything from this virus; it’s that preparation is key to crisis management.
Fashion is another vulnerable industry. COVID-19 has pushed fast fashion to the brink of death with broken supply chains and steep decline in demand thanks to WFH and hanging out in PJs all day. High street shops are closing, chains are going bankrupt. What will the industry look like post-pandemic? We imagine a complete bypass of dirty, thirsty and carbon intensive fashion raw materials – do we really need clothes if we are sending our avatars to attend Zoom meetings or Hangout parties? The age of digital supermodels is dawning – fast fashion’s death and virtual revival may be closer than you think!
COVID-19 also threatens our water systems. Coronavirus can be found in faeces /urine (hence the recommendation to keep toilet seats closed in apartment/office blocks). So in the midst of the health crisis in Wuhan, a hidden battle was fought to keep the virus out of the water and sewage systems.
Medical wastewater discharged from hospitals (and temporary ones) in Wuhan must be virus free, as must wastewater from the quarantine centers. We take a closer look at China’s on-ground efforts to stay ahead of the virus from new medical wastewater treatment standards to the testing of drinking water sources and large-scale hospital inspections nationwide.
What about the supply of water? Given that climate change could exacerbate scarcity, we had better work out innovative ways to tackle the water-energy-climate nexus. Here, we look at two emerging technologies and challenges they face so far.
Firstly, desalination – this is one of the most power hungry ways of producing freshwater but can it be improved? Dr Wang from Qingdao University of Technology shares with us a hybrid forward and reverse osmosis system that can increase water recovery by 45%, cut energy use and even reuse wastewater.
Another innovation is harnessing the energy in water. We sat down with Prof. Wang from the City University of HK to learn more about how their groundbreaking tech can power 100 LED bulbs with one drop of rain. Surely these are solutions worth exploring? They could both be game changing.
In these unprecedented times, our creative ability (especially on social media) is shining through; as are solidarity, compassion and endurance. Of course there are the usual coronavirus climate profiteers and general bad behaviour from mask scammers to mask piracy, but on the whole many of us want “something good to come out of this when we emerge on the other side.”
Ultimately, it’s down to us. Do we really want to go back to the normal that destroys our planet and all our futures? So instead of fixating on when, contemplate what our 'new normal' will be.
Climate change and viruses will certainly happen – some of us will run out of water, some cities will be submerged, many will lose their homes and their livelihoods. But we can avoid this by building a better future where less people die from things that we could have prevented or mitigated.
Can we break out of our own loop? It’s time to take a long hard look at our core programming which is currently set on self-destruct. COVID-19 has given us a once-in-a lifetime unicorn opportunity to hit the reset button. Let’s not squander this chance to rewrite our own story.
Stay cocooned - stay safe - dream unicorns!