The inescapable news this week (in Europe/ the US, at least*) has been the continuing rise in outbreaks of coronavirus, and government measures to curb it.
The effects have gone to the core functioning of the global economy:
- Lower industrial activity: as (Chinese) factory workers stay home (more here)
- Oil prices going down: less travel/ transit reduces demand (more here)
- Fewer flights: people don’t want (or aren’t allowed) to travel internationally (more here)
Interestingly, if you take away all the nastiness of what the virus can do to individual people, the outcomes are fairly in line with those calling for drastic action to combat climate change (see Greenpeace manifesto here).
Pretty dramatic behaviour changes
On Thursday in Denmark, the Prime Minister declared a two week lock down which means any “non-essential” public activity in the country is effectively banned. Schools and universities have been closed, people should work from home, and any mass public event have been cancelled.
For me, this has meant my co-working space and gym are off limits, and any talks and concerts that were in the calendar have been canned.
I’ve found it to be actually quite impressive how acceptable such a disruption has felt to everyone.
I’ve been thinking about how the behaviour change this virus has caused has similarities in what people say is necessary to tackle climate change, and whether there might be spill over effects.
Is it an essential activity?
Those who strongly believe that we’re in a climate emergency would deem that any international musician/ author travelling to Denmark is a non-essential activity and so shouldn’t take place.
In a way, you could argue the cancellations caused by coronavirus are a good thing.
Of course, in the instances that are happening now, the motive is different (i.e. more on preventing gatherings of people rather than preventing superfluous travel) but it is an example of what the consequences are when a combination of top-down and bottom-up forces people to change their behaviour, i.e. travel less.
Here are some consequences
What is also interesting I feel is that this state we’re in now is a decent proxy for what the world could look like with the lower industrial output called for by climate activists.
Yes, the smog is clearing in China but there are also negative effects, such as job losses (see here).
One could ascribe companies shedding employees as “short-term uncertainty” but the root cause is still whether or not people will continue buying things in the same level they have done previously.
Making, transporting and buying stuff (things we should do less of, in its current form, to save the environment) are what gives a lot of people a livelihood.
It feels to me that we’re getting a glimpse of what a “radical response” to climate change could look like.
It is possible?
The global government and individual action to tackle coronavirus has shown that international coordination is possible.
It could also demonstrate to people that they are capable of making changes to their day-to-day life and not be too affected.
An example for me comes from a talk I was due to attend. Before it was outright cancelled, the host said he was reducing his travel and so proposed doing a livestream from his living room in New York to an event space in Copenhagen.
In the trade off of reduce risk of coronavirus vs seeing him in person, interacting with him on screen seemed a fair outcome.
Now that we are seeing/ choosing to not do certain activities, could people replace coronavirus with reduce carbon emissions and switch attention to tackling that problem?
The climate problem is notoriously a tricky one, but perhaps the current pandemic could show us all some problem areas that could flare up if/ when “radical action” is taken to tackle it (i.e. thousands of flight attendants lose their jobs) and, hopefully, provide some foresight for how to mitigate the downside for those who will be affected.
It seems to me that having a contingency plan for those negatively affected by “climate friendly” policies will reduce the resistance to those policies being implemented, and that this moment we’re in now demonstrates just how big the effect of radical action could be.
* some friends in Kenya have been saying it’s, more or less, business as usual where they are
In other news…
Whilst in the apartment this week I’ve been going through the motions of finalising and name/ setting up a website for my business.
After some searching, it turns out Fruition was not URLable (i.e. no available URL) and so instead I’ve gone for Cofruition.
The delay in getting it finalised means I don’t have anything decent to share with you, so it may be a bit more time before I can send you link to take a look.
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