Preparing the world after.
The SeaCleaners President-Founder
Will 2020 be the year of the changeover to a new era? Will it be the year in which our lifestyles will have irremediably changed? Most governments have chosen radical measures to contain the progress of the pandemic during this coronavirus crisis. Unless we think of ourselves as Nostradamus, we cannot guess what the social, economic or societal consequences will be. However, without waiting for the end of lock-down and the return to our “before lives”, we can guess that the impact will be unprecedented. Moreover, one can express the hope that we will never return to this “before life” because if the time has come for action and solidarity, lock-down can and must also be used to think about the world of tomorrow.
A “lost year” will not be enough to save the planet
Even if we don’t have enough hindsight, it is predictable that the forced economic slowdown measures will lead to a significant decrease of air pollution worldwide. Greenhouse gas emissions are estimated to have fallen by 25% in China during the lock-down period, while the concentration of fine particulate has decreased by 20% to 30%. Global air traffic is heading towards its largest ever contraction. In Europe, it was already -13.5% at the beginning of March and this figure will increase. Perhaps we will be witness of a decline, for the first time in 40 years, in the amount of plastic waste that is dumped annually into the oceans, which will be close to 9 million tons in 2019, with the majority coming from the countries first affected by the virus.
Nevertheless, be careful not to rejoice too quickly. These positive short-term effects, however spectacular they may be, should not hide the possible long-term environmental disaster. Bad habits die hard. Gaz emissions and over-consumption always tend to bounce back after a crisis: we are already starting to see this in China, as we saw after the 2008 financial crisis. Several governments have announced massive recovery plan for their fossil fuel, gas, oil, airline and cruise ship industries. While these recovery plan could provide a unique opportunity to plan for a low-carbon economy, to launch deep structural reforms and to lay the foundations for a new and sustainable green economy, leaders are preparing to throw a lifeline to the old carbon economy.
Even more worryingly, in the name of sacrosanct economic recovery, the same governments risk questioning measures to combat climate change. Some members of the European Union, such as Poland and the Czech Republic, are already calling for the abandonment of the European Green New Deal. However, this plan, which aims to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 and plans to radically transform European public policies on energy, industry, transport, agriculture…, should more than ever serve as a compass to rethink our economic model.
Wanting so bad to return to the “before world” is irresponsible and dangerous. Worse, it is to give credence to the idea, already too often widespread, that the preservation of the environment requires a complete shutdown of the economy: that planet and human activity are incompatible.
The destruction of our environment, ocean pollution and climate change are not crises: they are irreversible transformations, without a return to normality, without a vaccine. A “lost year” will not suffice. Preserving our planet requires a sustained and steady decline in greenhouse gases and an urgent detox treatment to our addiction to hydrocarbons and their derivatives.
Covid-19 crisis teaches us one thing: it is possible for governments to take urgent and radical measures in the face of imminent danger, including costly measures that are normally considered impossible to implement. The forced pause we are now going through must be an opportunity to reinvent ourselves, to innovate, to ask ourselves how to implement these necessary, priority reforms, instead of desperately trying to return to the mistakes of the past.
Putting people back at the heart of the issues
Crises are always conducive to the revelation of unsung heroes. Today, the whole world applauds every night nurses, caregivers of hospitals, nursing-homes and care homes. Then what? Do we hope that they will pay for themselves with our eternal gratitude and applause? How can we accept that these caregivers, who save lives every day, who give every last ounce of their strength to push back the disease, earn 5, 6, 10 less than some professions that are precisely responsible for the ecological cataclysm that is coming? How can we accept that they earn 10 times less than those, political and economic decision-makers, who push us to consume more and more, to produce more and more, to desire to possess more and more? Those decisions makers are the one that create artificial needs, even when all the lights are red and howling to stop this frantic race.
The issue of social justice is more relevant than ever. When I see the list of professions considered “essential for the nation”, I am surprised not to find the high-wage professions, but to see, on the contrary, those that are often at the bottom of the social scale! Why, in this case, do not index wages to the social utility of a trade, to the service it renders to the public interest, rather than to the law of the market?
Our resources are getting depleted, climate disasters go on and on, food and drinking water are lacking for billions of people, warming continues, oceans getting acidify, getting covered with plastic, becoming decertified,… Added to this proven situation is the anguish of uncertainty. The post-Covid-19 world is already scaring many people: the economic recession is a breeding ground for the worst horrors committed by humanity. It promotes the rise of populism, nationalism, rejection of the other, social injustices. It is always the most vulnerable who bear the brunt.
To prevent history from stuttering, I hope that this unprecedented crisis will allow new democratic processes to emerge and a new political staff to make its voice heard. Leaders who will not aim to perpetuate, at any cost, a moribund system, but to invent a new one.
It is from civil society that the leap will come, from our collective capacity to produce radical change and imagine an alternative model of society.
The Covid-19 forces us to lift our foot off the accelerator and remove our blinkers. Now is the time to question our priorities. To realize how our overconsumption is a dead end and to change our behaviour in a lasting way. Let us have the lucidity to admit that, for us as for future generations, we must give up excessive consumption, learn to live with less superfluous tourism, fewer telephones, less comfort, to promote short circuits, to outlaw single-use products…
Let’s redefine together what we call “progress.” Going towards a happy sobriety is more room left to humanity, to listen, to solidarity. More room for dreams too.
It’s something the ocean taught me: freedom flourishes in less materialism. And I am convinced that the same is true of brotherhood and equality among all. Sailor’s word!