THE coronavirus crisis could be a pivotal moment, changing the attitudes and behaviour of the population so that it fully embraces sustainability and the fight against climate change, states the new director of a university centre that researches and campaigns in the field. She also alleges that Covid-19 is the result of global business practices that have damaged the environment and reduced bio-diversity.
Dr Julia Meaton is Reader in Sustainability at the University of Huddersfield, where she has become director of SURGE – the Centre for Sustainability, Responsibility, Governance and Ethics. It is based at the University’s Business School, where climate change, sustainable development goals and responsible leadership are built into the curriculum.
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It has recently been reported that more than 200 top UK firms and investors are calling on the government to deliver a Covid-19 recovery plan that prioritises the environment. But Dr Meaton says that she is suspicious of “greenwashing”.
“If we are to have a decarbonised future that will be beneficial to us all with great opportunities for many existing and new businesses, we need to join the dots and understand how businesses are culpable in the Covid-19 pandemic.”
Her argument is that industrialisation, globalisation, changes in land use change, deforestation and the movement of people are the key drivers of climate change, resulting in massive reductions in biodiversity, including mass extinctions. This in turn means that viruses lose their natural hosts and migrate to creatures such as rats and bats, resulting in them being transmitted to humans.
“And we then have a pandemic, which bites back on industry – and they then have the cheek to say we need to go green and that we are victims of this, when really they are the cause of it!” argues Dr Meaton. But she adds that consumers who support the businesses that are driving climate change should also face up to their responsibilities – and Covid-19 could mean that they are doing so.
“I have been teaching environmental management for 25 years and it has always been thought that a disaster would make people take climate change seriously. This pandemic could be the disaster that really does change things. It is not limited in geographical scope and it is not the case that when the fires are put out or the hurricane goes away we can just get back to normal. This pandemic is going to go on for a very long time, and may even be the first of many. So, we have got time to realise that we need to change the way we behave and the way we think.”
Dr Meaton detects changes in consumer behaviour and attitudes that could result in lasting change, such as more local food choices and the rise in bicycle use. And the University of Huddersfield’s Centre for Sustainability, Responsibility, Governance and Ethics that she directs will be placing the issues high on its agenda.
“This complements what we have already been doing in Huddersfield Business School, which has been closely linked with climate change and sustainable development goals. We are really embracing this in our teaching and research.”