Now that the initial panic of COVID-19 has largely passed, we are beginning to realize that the virus has reminded us of some basic wisdom we have long forgotten. Our lives have shifted, the economy has slowed, and a complete picture of the impact is still not known. For many this has been a wake-up call for another global issue threatening to impact the normalcy of day-to-day life - the critical nature of our climate situation, and how fragile our whole ecosystem really is.
I decided to go for a hike in LA’s nearby mountains last weekend and have never seen as many people hiking in my entire life. All of a sudden everyone had to be outdoors, walking in the snow in designer tennis shoes; dragging their little sofa pooches up a mountain just to be in nature.
Why? Perhaps because all of a sudden the world has realized that our natural ecosystem is precious, and that it’s rapidly changing.
Many have already said that COVID-19 is the timely force our planet used to stop us. We didn't stop to respond to its melting glaciers, rampaging wildfires, superstorms and plastic-drowned oceans. The virus has forced us to stop and turn our gaze from our computer screens to the skies; from our phones to the person across the kitchen table; from the looping Spotify playlist to the birds you can now hear singing outside of your window.
If you think about it, COVID-19 and climate change really do have a lot in common.
Addressing both is much easier if you reduce non-essential economic activity. If we produce less stuff and reduce non-essential travel, we use less energy and emit fewer greenhouse gases.
The immediate impacts seen in China have been staggering, and only after a short period.
This leads to the economic question:
How do you produce less in a socially-just way? The challenge of producing less is also central to addressing climate change.
COVID-19, like climate change, is largely a problem of our economic structure. Although both appear to be environmental or natural problems, they are socially driven.
It’s now been made painfully clear that our economic system is much more fragile than we thought.
As locations across the world implement "shelter-in-place" orders in an effort to flatten the coronavirus curve, we’re getting a real-time lesson in how intertwined our transportation and distribution systems are. It’s staggering to see how efforts to curb the human toll of a pandemic are rippling across every sector and creating incalculable emotional and social impacts.
This pandemic is showing us the power and value of local sourcing, local supply chains and distribution. It is also showing us that it takes one falling domino to send us all cascading into an economic depression. Many governments are moving to wartime economic measures, meaning rampant government spending until people start consuming and working again.
Economist James Meadway argues that the correct COVID-19 response isn’t a wartime economy – with massive upscaling of production. Rather, we need an “anti-wartime” economy and a massive scaling back of production. If we want to be more resilient to pandemics in the future (and avoid the worst of climate change) we need a system capable of scaling back production in a way that doesn't mean loss of livelihood.
As much as this virus has introduced the new concept of social distancing, it has also introduced a long-forgotten sense of global togetherness. We have never been so far apart and so close together in our lifetime. While some of us are at greater risk of getting ill than others, none of us are immune to it.
The virus doesn't discriminate based on social status, race, or religion. It creates a common denominator for all of us, and has made many of us think of our own mortality. By doing so, it makes us reconsider our values and priorities and ask ourselves the simple question of “what is REALLY important?”
By the time we are through this, our lives will never be the same. There will be the notion of “B.C” - Before Coronavirus” and “A.C. - After Coronavirus”.
Hopefully, we are all taking this time of global crisis and uncertainty to think deeply about the impact of our status quo systems and the potential to make a huge impact on the future of our planet if we take the same approach to climate change as we have taken to COVID-19.
We can all find an abundance of negatives at the moment. However, we’re all gaining a sense of togetherness and collective intelligence through this that will allow us to build the future that lasts, if we choose to.