Covid-19 is the end of life as we knew it….but is necessarily that a bad thing?

Published 1 June 2020, The Courier, Ballarat

We are living in unprecedented times. We are enduring hardships that we haven’t seen since our grandparents endured World War 2. The pandemic descended on us with little time to prepare. Unemployment is at a record high, our federal government is set to return the highest deficit in the history of our country, and there is no vaccine on the near horizon. We are right in saying that our world will never be the same again.

Sometimes, though, it’s the disruptive forces that while creating short-term havoc also create long-term benefits. In business, the shining examples of disrupters are Apple and Amazon. We take their products and services for granted now but there was a time when we would have said what they have done was not possible. There was also a time when we said it was the end of the world as we knew it…like that was a bad thing. In history, disrupters have included fantastical ideas (the earth revolves around the sun!), mechanical innovations (the horseless carriage!), social disruptions (women get the vote!), and natural disrupters (global pandemics!). We are now in the midst of one of the latter – covid-19. It’s wreaking havoc on our world and we are suffering some horrific effects from it. But… there is also good news. It is also working the way disrupters do – forcing innovation in order to adapt. There are good things coming out of this. Things we should hope stay and continue after the pandemic is over. There are innovations that were discussed for years with little to no movement, that have suddenly been implemented in days or weeks. Schools and universities moved students to online, the widespread ability to work from home became a reality, and Telehealth consultations were fast tracked.

We are connecting with our families more, and innovating how we connect with others. Those of us with normally sedentary lifestyles, chained to our desks in an office, are now walking the streets, the lake and the gardens frequently. Our dogs have never been so fit. My normally empty neighbourhood is now filled with people sitting in their driveways talking to the people in other driveways across the street. On a broader scale, health care workers have now been accorded the hero status they always deserved. Parents are now beginning to truly appreciate the role teachers play in their children’s lives. People are learning to grow their own vegetables and bake their own bread. Getting back to those basics is a good thing. Understanding the importance of human connections is a good thing. Innovation is a good thing.

The other thing that is good is sustainability. One of the best things to emerge from this pandemic is the effect the lockdown is having on our environment. We’ve seen the photos of world landmarks pre-pandemic vs. now – the thick, choking, sludgy air blurring their features is gone, replaced with startling blue skies and crystal clear views.

We have been talking for a long time about zero emission energy targets and renewable energy. The current pandemic gives us two things: the certainty that we have been having an adverse impact on our environment and an opportunity to take the solutions from rhetoric to reality.

The Committee for Ballarat recently held a webinar on sustainability featuring experts Professor Ross Garnaut, Eytan Lenko, Heidi Lee and Philip Harrington. They made it clear that sustainability is no longer a future dream, but a current reality. Committee’s Liveabiltiy Project Team has endorsed an agenda that will see us work with key stakeholder to progress Ballarat towards a sustainable, carbon neutral economy, driven by renewable energy for the region and beyond. We will do this by building a collaborative, whole of community, multi-stakeholder network – including all three levels of government, industry, business, commerce, the community and our young people – designed to deliver long term and sustainable outcomes for energy.

We aim to:
• Maximise the opportunity of locally generated renewable energy to deliver affordable and reliable electricity
• Reduce carbon emissions in the region
• Develop a model that incorporates local generation, transmission and distribution of renewable energy
• Partner with organisations to build social capital and attract private and government investment
• Explore practical measures that lead to the decarbonising of the regional economy.

It is true that things will never be the same after this pandemic. But that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. We know now we can innovate, and we know we can do it quickly. We know now that sustainability is not only a real possibility but also a necessity. We know now we can do this, and we can do it here in Ballarat.

Thought Leaders is a core piece of Committee’s strategy, you can see more about our work here

Prof Bridget Aitchison
Chair, Liveability Project Team
Committee for Ballarat