COVID-19 has brought death, destruction and disruption everywhere. However, it was also had some positive impacts on the planet itself. In many big cities the air and water bodies have been found to be cleaner in the last three months compared to what they had been in the last few years. This of course is due to the reduction of human impact and usage of the planet's resources. COVID-19 has allowed the planet to breathe by lowering our carbon footprint, albeit for a very brief period in the planet's industrialised history. This short span of time however has had significant positive impact on planet Earth.
Since the industrialisation of human society and civilisation we have continued to make progress in technology. Technology makes our lives easier and better. Technology has always been disruptive. Disruptive in the way it drives changes, influences our lifestyle, how we live and the way we do things. For example, we have adapted from using quill pens and inkwell to fountain pens and biros, from typewriters to computer word processors. Formidable challenges were always there for these changes to take place. We rarely want to accept new changes, once we get used to something. However, for the world to progress we have to adapt to changes no matter how challenging they are, in order to make the world a better place.
There are far more sinister illnesses than COVID-19 amongst us humans which we have just accepted as a way of life, such as heart disease and cancer. The primary cause of these ailments? Us humans! We create pollution that causes a far higher number of illnesses and deaths due to cancer and heart disease, compared to COVID-19. The world is rushing to develop vaccines to fight COVID-19. However, we have done comparatively little to fight the battle against cancer and heart ailments. We just accept that the air we breathe is bad and that's how our life is or has been. Cancer and coronary heart disease are a far greater pandemic than COVID-19. They are the greatest killers on the planet. Some may call it natural death, but there is nothing natural about it. It is as natural as war. Both these diseases are mainly contributed by the negative impact we as humans have on the planet, through pollution and our overuse of the planet's natural resources.
For the planet to survive we need to find better, more efficient ways to carry on our daily lives. We need to let the planet survive in order for the planet to allow us to thrive on it. After COVID-19 emerged, some cities actually recorded lower death rates, as people quarantined themselves at home, and fewer accidents and deaths due to traffic accidents, and fewer deaths due to "natural" illnesses were recorded. This inevitably can be a great source for our learning, especially for the citizens of Bangladesh. The air pollution and the devastating impact of our carbon footprint are reversible. We too can lower our own rates of death due to illnesses and accidents with the help of using and adopting disruptive technology. Why would it be disruptive? Because it will change our habits of how we continue living our daily lives.
Big cities like Dhaka and Chittagong suffer from congestion and poor air quality. Anything that can be done to reduce this will go a long way in our quest to sustain a healthy environment and life. During the shutdown of learning institutions and workplaces we looked towards technology to help us carry on with our lives as much as we could. We looked towards the evolving technology to help us find solutions. We stopped commuting and started to use platforms like Zoom, Google, Microsoft and WebEx, for work, meetings, education, social or family gatherings, and whatnot. This resulted in something great. The pollution reduced, the air got cleaner and the water in the water bodies became fresher, greenery increased and the city started to breathe again. We have been able to reduce our carbon footprint, and made a positive environmental impact.
Green technology always has a positive disruptive impact on the environment, so much so that internationally some large corporations and learning institutions have announced that there will be a new way of living and learning and working without the need for the daily environmentally damaging commute. Internationally renowned British bank Barclays PLC has announced that they will give up their prestigious and behemoth headquarters in London's Canary Wharf, as they will have most of their staff working remotely. The world-renowned Cambridge University has announced that for the next one year all classes will be conducted online. Facebook has announced that their staff will have the option to work from home. These are just to name a few, but there remain many institutions that are adopting technology to get their work done, and are becoming the change-makers for the greater interest of the planet.
Traffic congestion and pollution in cities such as Dhaka have a detrimental impact on its citizens. Congestion causes inefficiency in communication and commerce. Traffic accidents and deaths can be attributed to many illnesses such as cancer and heart disease. Commerce is not the only area being affected, but the lives of students – how they live, commute and study – are also changing. It is safe to say that many non-campus dwelling students spend anywhere from 2 to 4 hours to commute to attend a single lecture at university. These 2 to 4 hours of commute for a few hundred thousand students every single weekday are having a negative impact on their ability to commit time to study, causing undue stress, and contributing to the carbon footprint and putting their health at risk.
The way forward
As mentioned previously, we have turned to technology to get us through the COVID-19 pandemic using tools and applications available to us at hand. Institutions managed to string these tools and applications together to make them work for the time being.
As old habits die hard it would not be unreasonable to ask the whole of society to stay at home and work and study from home once this COVID-19 is truly over. Then again it may never be over or we may even face future pandemics. Nonetheless we have a pandemic that has been with us for a very long time, which is here to stay unless we collectively start doing something about it. What would be more practical and reasonable to ask of the society, is to adapt to a hybrid model of working and studying from home and attending the workplace and learning institutions. This combination would undoubtedly go a long way in having a positive impact on the environment, traffic, health and more. Technology visionaries have been quick to respond to such future needs, instead of randomly stringing tools together. Experts have developed dedicated platforms to allow such practices of working and studying from home. Various learning management systems have been developed to allow teachers and students to experience a secure and practical method of teaching and learning system. These systems are continuously being developed to suit the needs of institutions – more features are being added as and when needed, i.e. virtual proctoring for examinations, biometric facial recognition, etc. It is the same for Work-from-Home Solutions – platforms are continuously being developed to allow seamless continuity of work.
Cyber security and data protection have always been issues of concern to netizens. They have played a major role in the development of these dedicated platforms that keep evolving with dynamic cyber security systems that may be incorporated with the platforms. The tools and applications mentioned above – offered by Google, Zoom, Microsoft, WebEx – have been known to collect data, which happens to be a large part of their business model. Therefore, now is the time to move away from these tools and applications, and look towards the long term for dedicated independent platforms.
Learning management systems and Work-from-Home Platforms would also have other social benefits aside from the positive environmental and health impacts. LMS and Work-from-Home Platforms will allow more females to join the workforce and higher learning. Women may have young children at home or have other challenges that prevent them from joining work or co-ed learning institutions or they may fear sexual or other forms of harassment. They can greatly be benefitted by such platforms, and technology once again can be the enabler for making positive changes to our lives and the world.
Ehsan Haque is a senior banking professional based in Switzerland, and is an investor and the Chairman of Mitisol Limited, a digital security company in Bangladesh.