POST-COVID, CAN WE BUILD A DIFFERENT WORLD?

When much of the world was in COVID-19 lockdown, air quality dramatically improved even in the largest cities. Yet this year’s rise in CO2 is expected to be 90% of what it would otherwise have been, 2.48 ppm, versus 2.80 ppm (added to the current total of 416ppm). CO2 is still rising faster than it was in the 1990s. Despite happy blue skies, the climate and ecological emergencies continue unabated.

Unfortunately, the 2015 Paris Agreement is on life support. Five years on, 2020 was slated to be a big year: nations were to step up with 2030 and 2050 goals. Well…nations are failing on their original pledges and COP26 is postponed till 2021.

But the Paris Deal and the IPCC were already rotten inside: their central assumption for meeting 1.5-2°C is the massive deployment of CO2 net emissions technologies, a delusional fantasy. IPCC science reports are outdated and compromised by political and business interests. All of this obscures that the "true carbon budget" for a safe climate is already used up.

In the midst of this pandemic, can we find a different path forward to wean off fossil fuels within a decade? What we extracted from our Mother Earth to support our pre-COVID “lifestyles” is more than twice what She has to give. Yet nations have no plan except to try to return to what we considered “normal” (in reality, continuing to accelerate ecological collapse).

Our system's vulnerabilities and brutal shortcomings have been exposed by a tiny virus, completely invisible to humans. That COVID-shock-and-awe reveals that complete system transformation is required for survival. The ways we live – our political, economic, social, and moral systems – have been turned upside-down and inside-out. Can we usher in a completely new order?  COVID might allow us to see through the delusions and contradictions that mark our collective and individual lives, and to notice the interconnected crises abounding. Isn’t an honest look at the truth a necessary first step?

Political and business leaders did act quickly across a broad spectrum of societies. Shockingly, they relied on science. Moreover, to respond to the demands of coronavirus, most people and most nations are engaged, even sacrificing for the sake of the whole society. After the COVID preoccupation passes, can we then work collectively on global warming? And can we see the morbid sisters of the climate crisis such as soil depletion, plastic pandemonium, and ecosystem collapse – calamities for which COVID is a mere warning of what is in store?

Human overshoot is at the root of these systemic crises, including coronavirus. The task is to steer a cooperative course toward a survivable future – meaning that fewer of us take far, far, far less from our benefactor, our Mother Earth.

Before resignation sets in, because we will never return to pre-COVID “normal,” can we recall that  it only takes 3-4% of engaged, impassioned citizens to drive a national conversation and usher in comprehensive transformation?

Do we double down on protecting and propagating the radical individual consuming self, or do we accept the invitation into a world where we see, as Ben Franklin warned:

“We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.”


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