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Message From the President

Coronavirus: A Wake-Up Call for Us All

The coronavirus pandemic impacts us all, and it will be some time before things find their way to a “new” normal. In the meantime, the struggles before us are profound. Remote working arrangements are a challenge for many people and organizations, especially those not well-equipped for such a transition, and many people are struggling with isolation. Others still are dealing with even more serious challenges, from being laid off, struggling to put food on the table, working on the frontlines to contain the virus, lacking the resources to be connected to the digital world, or suffering the loss of a loved one. The impacts take many forms, and each day, the personal and economic toll of the pandemic grows deeper.

Earth wearing maskThe environment, of course, is affected as well. While the lockdowns that are in place may temporarily reduce certain stationary and mobile source emissions, home energy needs are increasing, as more energy is consumed to keep homes comfortable for telework. Energy demands to support the streaming services and remote access needed during periods of social distancing and self-isolation are likewise increasing. Once the immediate crisis is past, we could well see a spike in emissions from efforts to ramp the economy back up quickly. All the while, we need to ensure that essential environmental services continue to be performed, ranging from managing contaminated material to water sanitation and treatment. There are questions about the resilience of our environmental governance systems. How easy will it be for government to refocus attention on environmental problems? And how will private governance systems—the encouraging green initiatives that have taken root in so many companies—fare as companies’ attention is increasingly riveted on the bottom line and economic survival?

Very difficult times, to be sure, yet also perhaps an occasion to reflect on our frameworks for achieving societal goals like environmental protection and possibly to envision new and different paradigms. So, as we overcome the virus—and overcome we shall—before we simply reach for the reset button, let’s consider whether this moment should be a starting point for some new directions and approaches. How might technology serve as an even bigger contributor to social and environmental solutions going forward? Can renewable energy and distributed energy systems emerge as even more powerful stimulants for a reawakening economy? What does the pandemic teach us about supply chain resilience? Perhaps, the imperative of this moment for stretching resources to meet needs will allow for a new societal commitment to reduce food and materials waste. And what lessons can be learned from this experience to bring society together around climate change, a major issue that, like the one at hand, is deeply informed by science?

Here at ELI, we will continue to ask the big questions and mobilize the best thinking and innovation from around the world, via our programs, seminars, research, and publications, even during these challenging times. For example, on March 30, ELI is hosting a breaking news webinar, “Pandemics Now & Next Time,” to explore the intersection of environmental conditions and public health in hopes of mitigating future pandemics.

As we move forward, the safety and health of our staff, our many program partners across the globe, and our members is paramount. As we monitor the global health crisis closely, ELI, like many of you, has suspended discretionary travel and our team has transitioned to working from home. But we will carry forward with our projects and publications, serving as a continuing voice for environmental protection and responsible management while adapting our modes of engagement. ELI is already a leader in remote engagement, and we can keep most programming moving forward using these already established tools. ELI remains committed to making law work for people, places, and the planet.

Despite the uncertainty that surrounds us, perhaps we can all be comforted by the fact that as co-inhabitants of this precious planet, we are all in this together. And here is hoping that we can emerge from this more unified, and through our unity, stronger and more resilient than ever.

—Scott Fulton