by Victoria Gilbert, TEDxTinHau Countdown co-lead
It may seem that the world has spent a lot of time standing still this year. That we have been on a collective pause.
As factories suspended production, and transportation of people and goods was reduced to a bare minimum, there were noticeable, and much reported, changes in the natural world. While some stories were revealed to be flights of fantasy (dolphins in Venice – really?), others were grounded in real science.
- air pollution was much improved in the world’s major cities
- carbon emissions fell dramatically – China’s CO2 was cut by a quarter to a new four-year low in the first four weeks after Lunar New Year
- animals, like the deer in Nara, Japan, began to explore the urban spaces that people had stopped occupying.
Sadly, but predictably, these results were all too temporary with carbon emissions and air pollution heading back in a direction that is unhealthy for people and planet. We saw clear evidence of this in Hong Kong as health risks due to air pollution hit the highest level on the city’s scale at the beginning of September.
Yet, the beautiful blue skies that Hong Kong and much of the rest of the world enjoyed over the summer months show what can be achieved. They also serve as a sombre reminder of the scale of change that is required from us if we are to make the difference we need to.
So how do we bring about the change we need to make? Where do those ideas start?
For me, that is the power of TED, and its mission to share “ideas worth spreading.” Since the first TEDx event I attended in Shanghai in 2014, I was gripped by the dedication of the volunteer committees to find, coach and support amazing people to tell their stories in a way that is deeply personal and also sparks a connection with their audience. Sometimes that spark is so vivid you can almost see it in the air, and from that spark, comes a new way of thinking or doing.
New ideas, thoughts, and better solutions – what we know as ‘innovation’ – are at the heart of sustainability efforts. In many ways, sustainability is innovation. Sustainability is always forward-thinking, identifying what we really want, what we need to achieve, and asking how can we do that better? And cleaner? And fairer – for both people and planet.
A couple of my favourite examples of the intersection of sustainability and innovation are right here in Hong Kong.
- This summer, a research team at the University of Hong Kong created and planted the world’s first 3D-printed terracotta “reef tiles” to help restore eroding coral communities on Hong Kong seabeds.
- Asia is set to be home to 5 billion people by 2050, and its alternative protein industry is expanding rapidly to feed the increased population with a much-reduced carbon footprint too. New research by Green Queen Media identifies Asia as the alternative-protein industry’s fastest growing region in the world, with vegan and vegetarian product launches in Southeast Asia increasing 440% since 2016.
- The rapid expansion of electric vehicles in Hong Kong from 100 in 2010 to over 15,300 by summer 2020 helps in the battle against roadside emissions and pollution. It has been encouraged by generous tax incentives on car registration and charging points and complemented by trials for electric light buses and ferries.
These ideas are important. This year, August 22nd marked Earth Overshoot Day – the day when humanity’s use of the planet’s resources exceeds what Earth can regenerate in that year. We know our consumption behaviours have to change; we know we need to invest in regeneration; and we know there are solutions out there.
TEDxTinHau Countdown could not have come at a more pivotal moment. Though unsettling, the world has had a glimpse of what can be done when people work together across seas and borders, when they identify and focus action on an idea that has benefit to all. As Einstein wrote: “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” In 2020 we are not paused, we’re poised and ready to jump into a better world, where sustainability and innovation are hand in hand. We have an amazing day planned for Saturday October 17th and whether you join a community activity, a planet-friendly lunch or join us to listen to our incredible speakers please do #JoinTheCountdown #CountdownHK. I look forward to seeing you there.