The world is opening up. Lockdowns are officially being buried, people are breathing a sigh of relief and making plans for vacations, a beer on a local terrace, and lots of business meetings. Boy, did we miss them! Stores are getting fuller and fuller, restaurants are opening their doors, airports have to start paying attention again to their maximum amounts of flight movements, and we can get angry about the evening rush hour again. Schoolyards are crowded again, as are the lecture halls in higher education. It won’t be long before the misery of the past 15 months is only a small ripple in society’s collective memory.
A sigh of relief; the ‘new normal’ does not seem to have taken hold as well as some had feared. Working from home is becoming an exception, mobility by road and air is back to normal. Everyone can return to the order of the day – or rather, yesterday’s order.
And that’s a big problem.
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Of course, we wish each other the best and so we are collectively happy when we can pick up our normal lives. That is why it is not at all strange that the expectation (or wish) of many that the corona crisis would cause a major ‘reset’ has disappeared like snow in the sun. But beware what you wish for – at least if the longer term is important to you.
History shows that major social resets are only possible after a devastating blow like a war or revolution. This can be regional, national, or even global. The blow of the corona crisis cannot be compared to that of – say – the French Revolution or the American Civil War. And that is not only because of the nature of the crisis itself but also because of the reaction of governments: hundreds of billions of euros have been “created” worldwide to contain the damage for the most affected groups. No wonder the number of bankruptcies is currently at an all-time low in many countries. In fact, all this government support has mainly led to the idea that we could keep what we had – the world as we knew it.
What is needed is a government that uses stimulus packages not to maintain the old, but to enforce the new and facilitate further improvements in it.
Yes, without that support, much more damage would have been done than is now. For the short term – mindful of our desire to grant pub owners, startups, and airlines the best – this is logical and pleasant, but for the future of us and our children, it is disastrous. Not only because we have lost the opportunity to finally recalibrate our behavior (it is not normal to fly to Spain for 50 euros, just as it is not normal to fill up your car for an appointment that can also take place digitally), but also because it puts us as a society on the wrong track mentally. After all, if this is how we manage to cope with the “enormous corona crisis”, we’ll surely also be able to cope with the climate problem.
We cannot continue to live as we have been doing. Not only because a new pandemic will automatically roll over us, but also because we will throw ourselves into the abyss like lemmings, due to the exhaustion of the earth. And ‘we’ may not be ourselves in this case, but rather our children and grandchildren. The Paris Climate Agreement is already 6 years behind us but we still emit CO2 as if nothing is wrong with it; we still pump oil and gas out of the earth as if there is no end in sight and we still think that we have to industrialize pigs, cows, and chicken to meet our food needs.
There is no choice anymore. And honestly, that’s not a bad thing at all, because the solutions are plentiful.
Yes, the number of solar panels and wind turbines is still rising, but the rate of growth is too slow. As long as the argument that “they are ugly” is still put at the same level as that about creating a sustainable society, we will never get there. As long as we put deniers of every scientific fact at the same table as people who base their conclusions on years of research, we will continue to give the general public the impression that there is still a choice.
We don’t have a choice.
And honestly, that’s not a bad thing either. Anyone who follows Innovation Origins a bit knows by now that the solutions are within reach. Alternative energy generation, storage in sustainable batteries and hydrogen, meat substitutes in all shapes and sizes, digitalized healthcare, responsible mobility: everything is possible for those who want to see and experience it. But getting to that point requires a government that uses stimulus packages not to maintain the old, but to enforce the new and facilitate further improvements in it. Throughout our own country, throughout Europe, throughout the world.
- Install as many ugly windmills and solar panels as needed to meet our energy demand (and replace them the moment more efficient and beautiful variants are available).
- Ban the use of gasoline, diesel, and natural gas within ten years (and make their replacements extra attractive to both consumers and producers).
- Start building energy islands at sea immediately to produce huge amounts of hydrogen to green our industry (and keep improving those currently inefficient production methods while we benefit from the small results right away).
- Tenfold the price of the meatball (and allow farmers to benefit from the alternatives).
- Prohibit the production of anything that is not 100% energy-neutral and circular (and help companies make the transition to such a way of working).
- Do this at the European level, to begin with, involve the rest of the rich world, but also accept the responsibility to help make this happen in countries that are less fortunate than we are.
I know, coercion is difficult in a democracy. A country like China is well ahead in this respect, although even that does not automatically lead to the best approach, as we can see. We really shouldn’t copy that system, but that doesn’t mean there’s no way out. Our representatives (municipal councilors, members of parliament, senators, ministers, presidents) should take their responsibility. Quit holding on to what was, and start stimulating what can be, to begin with.
Stop the palaver, show leadership, and don’t be afraid to use coercion.
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