The whole world is grinding to a halt right now in what is surely the biggest crisis in several generations, all thanks to a virus. Isn’t nature amazing? It’s doing precisely what humankind is incapable of doing: taking serious action on climate change to prevent an even greater disaster. While the many deaths caused by COVID-19 are tragic, a lot of lives are also being saved by the cleaner air that is accompanying this slowdown. Hopefully, this crisis will establish peak oil, peak CO2, peak species extinction, and peak stupidity all at once, and provide a chance to rebuild an economy that is fairer and less damaging to the environment; a Green New Deal to set in motion a circular economy.
Right now, while airlines are busy flying totally empty planes all over the planet to satisfy a surreal “use it or lose it” air traffic system, perhaps now is a good time to reflect on where we were headed before this timely time-out was called, and change course before it’s too late. What is certain is that a sea change is in the making: there’s no way things will go back to the way they were before. Business as usual is no more.
With so many global travellers stranded far from home in airports or on cruise ships, it is unlikely that global tourism will return with the same insane intensity as before. In Barcelona, which is plagued by a housing affordability crisis thanks to the likes of AirBnB, tourist apartment slumlords are now suddenly wishing they had signed long-term leases with local citizens instead of choosing to rent to tourists.
If airline or cruise ship companies go under as tourism de-grows, so be it. Same with car manufacturers and fast fashion. If there’s one thing we are hopefully realizing while we are confined in a lockdown, it’s that there are more important things in life than going leisure-shopping for unnecessary fashion statements that only stay fashionable for a few weeks. Hopefully this crisis is making us appreciate the many things we already have, along with the importance of friends and family and the kinds of things that money can’t buy.
Speaking of scarcity: let’s see if eating habits become healthier and less wasteful as a result of lockdown. With every step outside to get food (don’t forget more toilet paper!!) entailing a health risk, and with supermarkets understandibly understocked in many items, maybe the idea of “home economics” will once again return, and we we’ll stop throwing out half the food we produce. Maybe we’ll even cook more from scratch, and buy fewer overpackaged and overprocessed grocery items.
Staying home 24/7 is also a good time to reflect on our current housing model. Yes, of course we will work out of our home much more from now on, and won’t need to always meet with someone in person halfway around the world just to sign a business deal or attend an academic conference on the hermeneutics of greenhouse gas emissions. Perhaps the increased isolation of being stuck at home in suburbia will finally bring on the realization that the American Dream is a nightmare, and create a desire for denser, more urbane, and less wasteful brownfield development. Home is much less lonesome when you can have a balcony-to-balcony chat with neighbours.
We now have an opportunity to become better neighbours, cooks, and lovers; citizens who are less materialistic and more solidarious (or is it “solidary”?). COVID-19 has a silver lining. It is a wake-up call for us to change our ways: to consume only what we need, to make do with what we already have, and to begin to heal the planet once and for all.
How? We need to start by pressuring our leaders so that this time they don’t bail out a financial sector that has been robbing us incessantly, nor rescue industries that pollute our planet. This time around, in this economic crisis, those very corporations that have been lobbying for “less government” should be the ones who are left alone. No more “privatize profits / socialize losses”. No more communism for the rich. No more corporate welfare bums. It’s now or never, folks.