Times of crisis, particularly shared global crisis, can also be times of great hope and opportunity. Here’s a list of 10 positive changes to the collective mindset this era of international emergency may bring.
Hopefully many more of us will begin to see the benefits of relying more on locally sourced food and goods instead of products demanding long and costly supply chains. Although widely advocated from a sustainability point of view, this kind of self-sufficiency is ultimately about power. About how independence brings you to a position where, instead of just hoping government leaders will do a good job protecting you, you can maintain some influence over your own destiny.
2. Local renewable energy
As of writing, so far as I know, the UK has yet to experience a power outage due to the systemic consequences of the pandemic. It would, however, be naive to think that it will not happen at some time. Renewable energy isn’t just about wind and solar – it now embraces many technologies including biomass, geothermal, hydro and Energy from Waste (EfW). Such energy sources not only benefit the planet, but they can all be be produced locally by community power collectives and deployed using microgrids. The benefit of decentralised systems is, simply put, that they don’t have central points of failure and so are much more resilient in uncertain times.
3. Drone technology
The technology already exists to deliver all sorts of products to the door of any quarantined person. So far, drones have largely been known as a way to deliver violence and conduct surveillance. But they can equally be used in more beneficial ways. In the case of the current emergency, they could assist in automating many systems at scale, including delivery drones and disinfecting robots. There are already examples of NGOs using drones to carry medicines to remote locations with impressive precision. Now that the ability to receive goods without close human interaction has become a more appealing proposition, mainstream adoption could be scaled up quickly.
4. A telepresence boom
Social distancing is fortunately happening at a time when we already love to be social, but far away from each another. Today all those meetings that could easily have been emails have quickly turned into emails. For the rest there’s telepresence – video conferencing and virtual stages. We now perceive whatever technology brings us our colleagues, family and friends in high definition as being the best thing since sliced bread (well… at least to a certain extent!) This is all great news for a world that’s been relying on air travel far more than carbon budgets genuinely allow.
5. Universal Basic Income
Martin Luther King, Bertrand Russell and many others agreed that a civilised society ought to provide its citizens with money for basic needs to ensure no one ever has to live in a state of destitution and desperation.
During the current lockdown, many jobs will, and have already, vanished overnight. Stock market losses reflect a concern for just how big a change in consumption this could bring.
Both the USA and Hong Kong have already approved a kind of emergency UBI, and there are more schemes on the way. The UK is somewhat lagging and the current system of Universal Credit is little more than a bad and insulting imposition. But now might be a golden opportunity to take a more serious look at the concept of UBI to help smooth out many of society’s inequalities and promote greater inclusion and cohesion.
6. A wake-up call to never blindly trust a leader
Citizens across the planet now have a front-row seat to watch how differently leaders around the world are handling the same emergency. Once the dust settles and figures can be studied, we’ll be able to see what worked and what didn’t. And we’ll then have an excellent example of how arbitrary the choices that leaders make can be. Many have already died because one leader or another took the wrong approach at the wrong time. This doesn’t have to mean that citizens should no longer trust anyone. However we should demand that success at the polls or holding office doesn’t automatically give absolute authority in questions where essential science and basic humanity should be considered rather than mere economic expediency.
7. A post-post-truth world
And suddenly, after years of denial, accuracy now matters. As we face a range of possible scenarios from mild to catastrophic, we now collectively want to know the facts. For example how much should we fear a sneeze or a handshake. Is everything under control, or should we stock up on food and water at home? We want to know. Not guess, but know.
And what about vaccines? Do they really work, or are they simply placebos or worse, of benefit to big pharma only? And then there’s the big elephant in the room that nobody talks about – the possibility of virus mutation, potentially rendering ineffective any developed vaccine. Might it not be better simply to focus on building up people’s immune systems to keep them healthier all round and so less susceptible to viruses?
Isn’t it about time people began demanding some REAL scientific truth, and not just dressed-up biased opinion?
8. Paying our heroes with more than just applause
The true value of the labour that keeps society – and our sanity – afloat, is now being keenly felt. Household refuse collectors and delivery people are receiving proper recognition for their usually thankless services. People homeschooling their children are expressing new appreciation for teachers’ former routine efforts. And the health care providers risking their own health for the sake of others are now receiving at least a measure of gratitude.
We’re finally learning what’s essential and what isn’t. Now, instead of paying the heroes of this crisis with nothing but applause, might not this sudden appreciation instead take on a monetary form and translate into better pay for our most crucial workers?
9. Collective belief is all that’s needed
Particularly when it comes to debt. Many governments, including here in the UK, are providing billions in short-term loans and pumping money into their respective economies (with a whole lot more on the way) to stabilise the markets and avoid total economic collapse and societal disintegration. In a world where fiat currencies are only backed by belief, a lot can be done once there is sufficient support. We are now witnessing the proof of this.
So why wasn’t this done before to right some of the wrongs and help society’s poorest? We certainly know why. But now the clearest evidence exists that it is indeed possible where the collective will exists. So let’s get on with it!
10. A common enemy
Some thinkers considering globalisation have long argued that our shared global village was turning into a “McWorld” with consumer culture as the common denominator. Yet there is something far more wholesome that we share wherever we live — we all want a safer tomorrow. And in Covid-19 we have at last found a common enemy attacking all people regardless of their nationality.
The present situation offers a choice. Either we try to piece the world back together as it was before the pandemic, or we can use this shared event as the founding moment of a unifying global strategy. One acknowledging that beneath our individual nationalities, religions and passports, we are all very vulnerable, dependent on each other and on systems of government.
Of course we have realised this for a long time, but never felt it so much as we do now. And never in the entire history of mankind has it been so important to understand and act on it. We’ve already seen the lack of global coordination to control the virus’ spread in its early days. We are now witnessing how each government is turning this shared global event into so many singular, national experiences. Some highly effective, others much less so.
We inhabit an interlinked world with governments pretending it isn’t. This can change. Global risks should in future receive an intelligent, global response transcending all partisanship. A virus can spread quickly and change us profoundly. Globally. So can an idea.