All Together Now: Making the New Normal Better
by Melissa Everett
We are all interconnected. The global pandemic has moved from animals to humans, from China to everywhere, from obscurity to the center of awareness. It has abruptly wrecked economies. It has also unified the human community and brought forth enormous creativity.
We are in it together. Health care and food distribution, fundraisers and virtual performances, and much more, are being organized, nimbly, by all kinds of people using technology for good.
There won’t be a return to the ordinary quality of life before this crisis, but there will be evolution. If we think well about our options for creating a more compassionate and resilient future, we can create a better economic and cultural reality in this critical moment.
Before the pandemic hit, the world was coming to terms with the climate crisis. Over 60% of Americans say they are either “alarmed” or “concerned” about climate change. Twenty-three states have united as the US Climate Alliance to say “We’re still in” for the Paris agreement and develop policies accordingly. Over 230 companies have pledged and begun to shift to 100% renewable energy include Google, Apple, and IKEA. As Paul Hawken, mastermind of Project Drawdown, observes, “We are nearing an inflection point in the climate crisis; there is just about as much money to be made in advancing the solutions, as there is in contributing to the problems.” As economic stimulus dollars flow, climate solutions are obviously a good target.
Economically, reshaping our world starts with saving Main Street and strengthening the supply chain of essential items. We have seen the adaptiveness of small business in the crisis. The shortage of masks and hand sanitizers led local distilleries to retool, and local crafters to begin creating masks. As Main Street businesses sell gift certificates and crisis specials, they are rediscovering the connection with customers through loyalty and micro-investment. Some are already upping that game by accepting local currencies – like the Hudson Valley Current – that have been created to foster loyalty to home town businesses. Amazon has helped us through, but at a price; as users of that resource, let’s send them a message to make sure their work force has good health coverage.
So many of our jobs are in flux, and many people need to secure that paycheck right away. But if your old job has come apart, it’s worth taking a moment to think where you really want your working life to go. Your most secure job is the one that fits you best. There are more businesses and organizations designed to achieve sustainable development goals and benefit community well-being, than ever. Companies with a social or environmental mission actually give greater returns to their investors, compared with business as usual.
In the economy, the most obvious near-term opportunity is the remote work explosion. Millions of people are working from home, including many who never expected to. Workplaces that had never taken remote work seriously have begun to do so. Transportation is a major chunk of humanity’s greenhouse gas footprint, and commuting is a major time sink for the work force. Can our workplaces realize the savings and benefits associated with continuing to allow more remote working?
Education has rapidly shifted to virtual delivery. How can we use all the virtual platforms and curricula out there, to make sure that every kid gets schooling and adults take full advantage of the continuous learning resources that are so abundant? Culture, too is alive in the virtual space, with major performances like the Global Citizen benefit for the World Health Organization bringing together top international talent from Lady Gaga to the Rolling Stones, together with leaders of health care, humanitarian and social justice organizations for a well curated, inspiring conversation that raised millions of needed dollars.
“Black swan” events are big, game changing, hard to imagine happenings that do widespread damage. These are a feature of complex systems. If those complex systems are large-scale, so is the damage. Decentralizing our economy, our power systems, our agriculture and our patterns of living is not a romantic fantasy. It is a strategic imperative. At a scale closer to local, we are better able to repair our ecosystems and find ways to care for and restore our environment.
The covid-19 pandemic and the climate emergency have so many parallels – “sleeper” status in human awareness, then exponential advance until they can no longer be ignored. In both, the scientific evidence mounted; scientists issued calls to action and in some cases pleaded with elected leaders. In both cases, denial and doubt were manufactured for the political survival of obsolete interests and ideas, and political will was eroded. But reality was unchanged by human attitudes. In the face of visible, tangible, painful and irrefutable evidence at a mass scale, public awareness and understanding of both climate and covid have begun to come to terms with reality. While we are waking up to our interconnectedness and the critical need to restore the safety net of our natural systems, it is natural and sensible to aim for qualities of resilience that makes us more secure against both “black swan” events and climate change.
How could these aspects of a positive pivot really happen? In bringing people together, we will need a new conversation – one that takes a break from blame and focuses on our innate capacity for compassion and learning.
A “Just do it” attitude will help, and so will conscious attention to scale.
Collaboration is essential. Networks of businesses, health care and educational institutions, and innovative nongovernmental organizations, must come together to mobilize resources and create smart strategies. The upside to all this online communication is a growing capacity to share what’s happening and replicate good models, from reclaiming public spaces to extending remote working opportunities.
In bringing people together, we will need a new conversation – one that takes a break from blame and and focuses on our innate capacity for compassion and learning.
Some needed changes involve policy – such as ensuring that stimulus funds will be oriented toward Main Street and sustainable business. But a great deal can be done by building a movement for voluntary action using resources at hand. For example, the Hudson Valley Current (.org) is a local currency with programs to foster community resilience by letting people with resources pay forward to help people without.
Right now – while major investments are being made and fresh questions are being asked – this is the time.