“When the Levee Breaks”: How Covid-19 and the memory of George Floyd are already hastening the required unity in our fight against climate change.  

“When the Levee Breaks”: How Covid-19 and the memory of George Floyd are already hastening the required unity in our fight against climate change.  

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By Aharon Kirstenbaum, Consultant, Companies Vs Climate Change

Since March, the world has never felt closer to an apocalypse. With all the chaos, this time has also brought out incredible resiliency in us, a resiliency and fervor that has me feeling, with renewed optimism  that it is possible for communities of all sizes to come together and support each other in times of crisis.  

Those in the field of sustainability,  in my view,  have generally always been uniquely resilient because the very definition of Sustainable Development, “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (Our Common Future), begs of us to always be forward-thinking and, therefore, acting.

Sustainability professionals are constantly running in a race against time. We are fighting climate change and we work tirelessly to find long-term, enduring, solutions that are green, cost-effective and efficient. We have dedicated every day of our lives to this endeavor given the existential guarantees to us, our children, and theirs’ if we don’t. We do not like to skip days in the ring.

Then came COVID-19 and with it, the stagnation, and sometimes outright halting, of almost everything, even sustainability efforts

Over 7 million people have been diagnosed with the coronavirus worldwide,  and thousands die daily. We are not even able to completely assess the impact  it has and will have on the global economy and people’s livelihoods. Many of us are facing incredible uncertainty and are utterly baffled by what has just happened and continues to happen all around us. Instinctively, the resilient sustainability professionals have asked “what’s next”? 

But before we could even answer that question, George Floyd was senselessly and tragically murdered, and the calls to fight for equality and demand change in the face of a grave injustice rang loud, sending reverberations not only across the  United States  but also worldwide 

You may think this would have dealt a KO blow to the minds of many a sustainability professional. However, in observing the contrast between the reactions of the general public and that of my LinkedIn feed (99% Sustainability Professionals), the opposite was true. Along with Covid-19, George Floyd’s murder, and our reflections upon it, harsh as it may sound, were the answers.

We saw now more than ever what we already knew. Covid-19 was but the final nail in the coffin of “Business as usual”. We already knew it was not sustainable for Planet Earth and that a redefinition of the term was needed. Yes, the transition to a sustainable “business as usual” was already happening. The business case for sustainability had been made. This was proven every day by the biggest companies in the world voluntarily becoming more aggressive than any government mandate, in reducing their carbon and overall environmental footprints for their own resiliency, and to meet consumer and investor demands. But we all now see that this transition must be further expedited.

Secondly, and most importantly, we saw more clearly than ever another truth we already knew. That is that we all, companies, individuals, governments, must get in the ring and fight this thing together. The horrific murder of George Floyd, and the ensuing discord, have underlined the need for a recognition and action that recognizes and our common humanity. Because while we all may have stark differences in our backgrounds, beliefs and every characteristic that makes each of us unique, even when it comes to how we solve climate change and inequality, we also know that  “when the levee breaks” (Wilbur “Kansas Joe” McCoy, later covered by Led Zeppelin), the waters that flood us all won’t discriminate.

Author’s note: Upon searching for the author of the lyrics of “When the Levee Breaks” I discovered it was originally composed by Wilbur “Kansas Joy” McCoy”, a black blues musician who wrote it about the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927, and only many years later covered by Led Zeppelin, a discovery that made its use in the article all the more meaningful to me.

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