Key steps towards overcoming the world’s complacency (or negligence) towards external risks are, first, to recognise the interconnections between all human – nature relationships, a central premise guiding the UN-2030 Sustainable Development Goals or Global Goals. And, secondly, as Covid-19 has made clear, there is an urgent need to change our worldview (belief systems). In short, we are all tasked to transcend national and personal vested interests and adopt a new mindset: replacing the current view of limitless resources, exploitation, competition and conflict with one that respects the sanctity of all life and strives towards health and well-being for all - the planet and all species
By George Lueddeke PhD, MEd, Dipl. AVES (Hon.)
Chair, One Health Education Task Force and the international One Health for One Planet Education initiative (1 HOPE)
(One Health Commission and the One Health Initiative)
The World at Risk
Covid-19, Global Sustainability and 1 HOPE
"It is the long history of humankind that those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed." – Charles Darwin
The world is experiencing an unprecedented crisis. We are facing down a coronavirus pandemic that, according to Francois Balloux, professor of computational systems biology and the director of the University College London (UCL) Genetics Institute, is “the most serious global public health threat humanity faced since the 1918/19 influenza pandemic” (1).
The 2020 cataclysmic pandemic is reaching all corners of the world leaving no one unaffected – medically, socially, economically, and psychologically. As with previous bacterial outbreaks threatening humanity, this potentially dystopic threat will pass, but its impact is transforming the world we know in just a few short weeks and months.
This paper highlights some of the immediate effects on society, aims to encourage readers to reflect on current global priorities with a view to finding new ways to strengthen our capacity to ensure global sustainability and well-being in the longer term.
Coronavirus – a Global Wake-Up Call?
The novel coronavirus outbreak emerged in Wuhan, China, a city of 11 million people. The virus SARS-CoV-2 is understood to have originated in bats and passed on to humans at the end of 2019 through contaminated meat at a seafood market where wildlife was also traded illegally. Spreading rapidly across the globe many thousands – possibly rising to millions of people – are now forced to self-isolate to slow down or stop the transmission of the infectious disease.
Severe restrictions on travel and business have been imposed alongside partial or complete border closures and total country lockdowns, including social distancing, school closures and banning mass gatherings. The number infected with Covid-19 along with rising deaths globally – especially among the older population and those with underlying medical conditions – are unprecedented in the modern age as – without a vaccine – are the limited options available to governments mainly relying on testing, tracing contacts, quarantine, hand washing and maintaining social distance.
It appears that China’s all-of-society approach to contain the virus (vs delaying it via acquiring ‘herd immunity,’ Britain’s first strategy) and giving local authorities high autonomy, placing routine health services online, coupled with severe restrictions on people movement seems to have worked. Few new cases in a population of about 1.4 billion are now reported with other nations, for example, Singapore and Taiwan, showing similar results. At the time of finalising this article (March 25 – 16:00 GMT), according to the Worldodometer (Coronavirus [update]), there were 445,815 Covid-19 cases; 19,770 deaths (15%) with 112,037 recovered (85%). Countries with the highest number of cases are China, Italy, USA, Spain, Germany, Iran and France.
With infections now across all global regions and efforts to stop the virus from spreading, the impact of Covid-19 on human capital – social and economic – is unprecedented. The virus affects society as a whole – including those in the front line of infection defence: healthcare workers – potentially weakening health care systems especially in poor countries where billions are living under intolerable social conditions, lacking safely managed sanitation, and are already struggling with a myriad of infectious diseases (e.g., cholera, HIV/AIDS, TB). Just about every aspect of life as we know it has been impacted – manufacturing, travel and tourism, shopping, hospitality, businesses, stocks, leisure, education, healthcare – to name just a few major areas.
The United Nations has warned that the crisis could lead to the loss of nearly 25 million jobs around the world with the global economy facing a financial crisis similar to 2008 or even the 1930s. The groups most affected are not the professionals but low-paid workers working in the service industries-most of whom could benefit from provision of a universal basic income. With the threat of a recession (depression?) governments, in some cases using emergency powers, are trying to help with emergency stimuli – grants, interest-free loans, tax cuts. Following similar schemes in Denmark, Sweden, Germany, France – with others soon to follow – the UK government has now initiated a wage support scheme subsidising 80% of the pay for workers who would otherwise be laid off while also introducing new welfare measures – the total bailout costs about £44 billion adding to the national debt with the deficit becoming the largest ever recorded. Fragile economies – e.g., African countries – may not be that fortunate unless institutions like the World Bank intervene.
The Folly of a Limitless World
There can be little doubt that pandemics alongside other existential planetary threats we face – environmental degradation, geopolitical (e.g., weapons of mass destruction [WMDs]), technological (e.g., artificial intelligence [AI] for non-peaceful purposes), ideological extremism – (political/religious) – necessitate a global redirection towards well-being and sustainability (2). Covid-19 reminds us that that the survival of all species (humans, animals, plants) is wholly dependent on treating all life on the planet with respect and ensuring an ecologically-healthy planet.
As Allister Heath, editor of The Sunday Telegraph, reminds us, perhaps the most important lesson from the current crisis is that ‘never again must we fall foul of Panglossian stupidity and assume away the risks of a catastrophic pestilence’ (3)
Covid-19 puts into sharp focus the futility of self-indulgent or vainglorious thinking that has characterised much of our political and economic debates and decision-making in the past few years (4). So-called ‘strongmen’ or political extremists (far left and far right) who pursue division over unity at a time when the spirit of ‘oneness’ is imperative (2) might find Percey Bysshe Shelley’s poem Ozymandias (5) a sobering read – especially the last few lines:
“Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair! Nothing beside remains. Round the decay Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare The lone and level sands stretch far away.”
Key steps towards overcoming the world’s complacency (or negligence) towards external risks are, first, to recognise the interconnections between all human – nature relationships, a central premise guiding the UN-2030 Sustainable Development Goals or Global Goals (5). And, secondly, as Covid-19 has made clear, there is an urgent need to change our worldview (belief systems). In short, we are all tasked to transcend national and personal vested interests and adopt a new mindset: replacing the current view of limitless resources, exploitation, competition and conflict with one that respects the sanctity of all life and strives towards health and well-being for all – the planet and all species (2).
In this regard, in 2020 the time may have arrived for world and national leaders, influencers or shapers and organisations, such as the UN, the Group of Twenty (G20), WHO, NATO, OECD, WEF, the World Bank, Universities, Civil Society organisations, and pro-environment Youth campaigners to step forward to reinforce and rebuild trust in global institutions – committing to shared global values, providing adequate resources and helping to shape and strengthen multilateral strategies, many of which (e.g., the UN-2030 SDGs) have the capacity ‘to save the world from itself ’ (6). One of their most important tasks might be to challenge the thinking of those who subscribe to the follies that Earth resources are limitless, that climate change is a hoax and that division is preferable to unity.
The One Health and Well-Being Concept and Propositions for Global Sustainability
Recently kindly described as a ‘landmark’ publication, my current cross-disciplinary book, Survival: One Health, One Planet, One Future is dedicated “To all those who believe in the Oneness of the world” (2).
The main purpose of the book is to ‘try’ to make sense of the uncertain and tense (‘rattling’) times we are experiencing with a view to finding ways forward to ensure the sustainability of the planet and all species. David Heymann MD, professor of epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), former head of the Centre on Global Health Security at Chatham House (London), and chair of Public Health England, wrote the Foreword.
The volume asserts that – as previously mentioned – the One Health & Well-Being (OHWB) concept – that recognises the interdependencies among humans, animals, plants and their shared environment – provides a unity around a common purpose – sustaining our planet which ought to drive/steer the 17 UN-2030 Sustainable Development Goals or the SDGs (7) in policy and practice, thereby encouraging decision-makers at all levels – especially Government, Business and Civil Society- to get behind this global initiative regardless of ideological persuasion or divisions.
The challenge is to shift our perspective from two-dimensional to three-dimensional, ‘orbital’ thinking, as NASA International Space Station (ISS) astronaut Col Ron Garan contends – “bringing to the forefront the long-term and global effects of every decision” (8)
British journalist, author and broadcaster, Matthew Syed, in a commentary applies this principle to ideology and ‘our broader political culture’ where, he observes, ‘Politicians of left and right…tend to view things through a single lens, rigid and unbending, blinding them to what’s going on’ as opposed to ‘creating accountability, by listening to real rather than pseudo-experts and by acting multilaterally when wise to do so…’ and learning ‘rather than deluding ourselves with baroque confabulation’ (4).
As shown in Figure 1, the propositions are a point of convergence in Survival (2) and target decision-makers at all levels. They call for informed, future focused discussion at the United Nations, other bodies, organisations and involvement of civil society generally. The propositions are catalysts for ‘thinking outside the box,’ individuals and organisations working toward common goals – identifying the root causes/obstacles, collaborating to find solutions, implementing, monitoring, communicating, adjusting – and thereby contributing to the creation of a more “just, sustainable and peaceful world” (7).
Figure 1: Ten Propositions for Global Sustainability
© 2019 George R. Lueddeke Source Lueddeke, G.R. (2019). Survival: One Health, One Planet, One Future. Abingdon, Oxon / New York: Routledge. (Ch 12- Leading in an era of uncertainty, upheaval and anxiety)
The international One Health for One Planet Education Initiative (1 HOPE)
Drawing on the OHWB concept and the SDGs, the propositions are an attempt to narrow the gap between ‘what is’ and ‘what might (must?) be’ in order to ensure sustainability and well-being of the planet and all species.
The reality is that many of the issues had been identified already but many have received only token attention at best by decision / law-makers / organisations or have been ignored altogether. As discussed earlier, the Covid-19 crisis is a massive, hopefully once-in-a lifetime, shock that has taken everyone out of their comfort zone as companies, schools and public transport systems, and companies shut down and hundreds of thousands of firms, big and small, are at risk.
We really are in the era of the “known unknowns.” While in the immediate effective responses to patients with Covid-19 infections remain variable, in the longer term one thing we do ‘know’ is that learning from past events may be the key to our survival and the sustainability of life on earth as we know it (2). To this end, formal and non-formal education is not only a human right but is also fundamental in advancing ‘the three aims of building resilience, improving sustainability, and assuming responsibility’ (8), agreed by the G20 in 2017,’ thereby reducing poverty and fostering economic prosperity. In terms of the latter, we also now realise that our future cannot be bought at the expense of our environment nor ignoring the well-being of all other living species that have evolved over billions of years.
The criticality of making a paradigm shift from human-centric to eco-centric thinking and behaviours is what the Covid-19 wake-up call is all about and ‘represents a precious opportunity to learn…a moment that affords an opportunity to understand what happened , why it happened and what we should do next’(4).
Proposition #7 recommends that consideration be given for the One Health & Well-Being concept to become the cornerstone of our education systems and societal institutions. Supported by the One Health Commission and the One Health Initiative, the proposition became the catalyst for the development of the international One Health for One Planet Education (1 HOPE) initiative (9).
As one response to the issues we face globally (10), its overall vision, as summarised in Figure 2, is “a world where people of all ages in civil and governmental organizations apply a One Health and Well-Being (OHWB) approach – recognising and respecting the interconnections and interdependencies among humans, animals, plants and their shared environment – thereby collaboratively striving to ensure the sustainability of the planet’ (11).
Building global capacity, 1 HOPE seeks to progress understanding and valuing of the OHWB concept and the SDGs globally through a number of working groups (WGs) in each region. The WGs will be developing ideas for pilot projects for possible external funding. To date several have been established in the Americas and Africa with others soon to follow.
Figure 2: The international One Health for One Planet Education initiative
Unquestionably, as Caroline Stockman, chief executive at ACT (UK Association of Corporate Treasurers), stated recently we are now facing the ‘worst of the worst because it touches on everything. It’s not just that the markets are going down like they did in the financial crisis, it’s that people are worried about their loved ones dying’ (11).
As discussed earlier, urgent priorities are to limit the spread of the disease which is now impacting on all nations worldwide confirmed on this map in real time showing exponential daily increases.
Calling for a ‘smarter approach to development and well-being,’ the authors of a seminal article, ‘A vision for human well-being: transition to social sustainability,’ emphasised the need to identify ‘underlying issues and root causes of inadequate human well-being’ while solving ‘these problems within the context of environmental limits.’ Two key challenges in achieving global sustainability, according to the authors, are that sustainability can occur only in ‘human societies that function well’ and only when ‘something pushes them’ (12).
Covid-19 might provide the trigger as, according to Ed Conway, economics editor of Sky News, ‘coronavirus is one of those shocks that could force business to take the leaps that they were hitherto too nervous to make’ but perhaps less so now given the impact it is having on all human activity. As Conway concludes, this disease could force us to take a long hard look at the way we run the world, and change it’ (13).
While our hearts and minds are understandably concentrated on the here and now, this could be the moment – perhaps informed by ways forward, such as the Ten Propositions for Global Sustainability and 1 HOPE,(2) when society begins to think about ‘developing economic and political policies and institutions that serve human well-being in all its dimensions’(14), in particular the ‘restoration and regeneration’ of the Earth’s natural systems without transgressing ‘its boundary conditions’ (15). The younger generation deserves and will expect nothing less!
1. Science Media Centre. Expert comment on possible scenarios and responses to COVID -19.[ Internet]. 2020 Mar [cited 2020 Mar 19]. Available from: https://www.sciencemediacentre.org/expert-comment-on-possible-scenarios-and-responses-to-covid-19/
2. Lueddeke GR. Survival: One Health, One Planet, One Future. Oxfordshire, England: Routledge; 2019.
3. Heath A. At best, coronavirus is a dry run for the catastrophic pandemic to come. The Daily Telegraph: Comment. 2020 Mar 5: 16.
4. Seyed M. In a real crisis, we reach for expertise – so let’s use it to kill off the ideology virus too. The Sunday Times: Comment; 2020 Mar 16:22.
5. Shelley SB. Ozymandias. Poetry Foundation [Internet]; 2020 Mar [cited 2020 19 Mar]. Available from: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/46565/ozymandias.
6. Lueddeke GR. The University in the early Decades of the Third Millennium: Saving the World from itself? Policies for Equitable Access to Health (PEAH) [Internet]. 2020 Jan [cited 2020 18 Mar]. Available from: http://www.peah.it/2020/01/7524/
- United Nations. Transforming our world: the 2030 agenda for sustainable development. Department of Economic and Social Affairs [Internet]. 2015 Sept [cited 2020 Mar 2020]. Available from: https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/post2015/transformingourworld
8. Garan R. The orbital perspective: an astronaut’s view. London, England: Metro Publishing; 2015.
9. European Commission. G20 leaders’ declaration: shaping an interconnected world. [Internet]. 2017 (July 8) [cited 2020 Mar 20]. Available from: https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/STATEMENT_17_1960
10. The Core Group. One Health & Well-Being: Toward Human –Nature Sustainability. George Lueddeke – Webinar. 2020 Jan 30 [cited 2020 Mar 19]. Available from: https://coregroup.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/30.01.2020-Final-One-Health-Webinar-Slides.pdf
11. One Health Commission and the One Health Initiative. The One Health education task force: Preparing society for the world we need.[Internet). 2019 Dec [cited 2020 Mar 21]. Available from: https://www.onehealthcommission.org/en/programs/one_health_education_task_force/
12. Evans P, Treanor J. Pledges sow hope –and confusion. The Sunday Times: Business & Money; March 22 2020:1.
13. Rogers DS, Duraiappah A, Antons DC, Munoz P, Fragkias M, Gutsche M. A vision for human well-being: transition to social sustainability. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability. [Internet]. 2012 February [cited 2020 Mar 16]; 4: 1–13. Available from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/257721856_A_vision_for_human_well-being_Transition_to_social_sustainability DOI: 10.1016/j.cosust.2012.01.013
14. Conway E, Virus can trigger a new industrial revolution. The Times: Comment; March 6 2020:26.
15. Khosla A. Development alternatives: to choose our future. Development Alternatives Group. New Delhi, India: Academic Foundation; 2015. Available from: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Choose-Our-Future-Ashok-Khosla/dp/9332703043