Why Return To Normal After COVID?

April 15, 2020 1:03 p.m.

You may have heard talk of eventually redeploying the resources mobilized to fight the pandemic to tackle carbon emissions. It’s not a misplaced sentiment exactly, though I do think the parallels are generally inapt. But then TPM Reader FL wrote in a few days ago and framed it up in a way that felt more on point than other discussions I’ve seen. I yield the floor:

I’ll ask a big, dumb question that’s maybe too obvious: why go back to the 2019 normal after we get COVID-19 under control?  Before you answer, let me properly frame the question.

One thing is that I’m perfectly aware that civilization will collapse if we don’t have more interactions than we do now.  What we’re doing is the equivalent of biological hibernation, trying to “sleep” out a bad situation by depending on stuff stored and reduced productivity.  That can’t last forever.  Hopefully it can last long enough.

On the other hand, normal was basically a crisis, where we have maybe 10 years before we start losing critical things like coral reefs and perhaps 30 years until every ecosystem, including agriculture, start seriously starts failing.  While getting back to normal feels good, normal’s a trajectory towards a total crash.

Perhaps, rather than trying to get back to our old normal, we might see what’s happening now as a chance to start making new normals.  Is there anything we can learn, from what we are suffering with in 2020, that will help us bend the curve on greenhouse gas emissions too?  After all, everybody who lives through the next few decades will suffer and probably die if civilization crashes.  If there are ways to suffer usefully to keep civilization from crashing, shouldn’t we be looking for them?  What better time than now?

I’d suggest, very carefully, that what might help now is to spend some real time mourning what was lost when the old economy broke, care for the pieces that are left and build a new “somewhat normal” out of them.  I don’t mean that we should stop trying to get businesses into hibernation so that they’re still around when COVID-19 is gone, but we know there are already victims, and we need to mourn their loss, as well as our own lost lifestyles.

But rather than going backwards afterwards, I’d suggest using this as a time to see how we can collectively do things like reduce greenhouse gas emissions by limiting our activities, see what the effects are, and hopefully decide that at least some of them weren’t as scary and impossible as we thought they were a few months ago.

My 0.000002 cents.  Thanks for reading this far.

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