Every Disaster is an Opportunity for Change
The pandemic is the opportunity climate activists have been waiting for.
When it comes to climate change, about half of Americans support climate activists. The greatest challenge to the goal of stopping climate change is the resistance to climate action that negatively impacts people’s standards of living. As Beyond Meat has shown with the success of the Impossible Burger and Impossible Whooper, if you let people choose to be climate conscious without the material sacrifice, support for your cause soars.
But the hard truth of climate change is that not all changes will be consequence free. There is no climate friendly solution to planes. We do not have electric cargo ships. There is no climate friendly solution to fast fashion. Perhaps someday there will be, but the date that solution arrives will be too late for us to start making the change.
There are solutions that are here now. For the first time in human history, green energy is cheaper than fossil fuels. This should be the start of an energy revolution. The problem is change. Humans don’t like it. Unluckily for the world but luckily for climate change, the pandemic is doing the heavy lifting for us.
The airline industry drastically shut down, travel is mostly halted, retailers are running to restructure their supply chains, governments are giving massive stimulus and consumption around the world is down. This is the perfect moment to hit that reset button and make the switch to a more sustainable world economy. It just so happens to be a COVID safe one too.
There are 3 major hurdles to a green economy, I will show how each of then can make use of this unprecedented moment in human history.
- Supply chains
The first of these hurdles, energy, is obvious. Fossil fuels got us into this mess, why? Energy. The good news here is most of the heavy lifting has been done. Cheap sustainable electricity providing good high paying trade jobs is already here. These clean energy jobs require skill and come with good benefits. They are the perfect solution to the job losses of oil and coal. Plus, with governments looking to put stimulus into new job opportunities for victims of the COVID recession, they offer a tempting job training sector. Clean energy doesn’t need government subsidies to compete with fossil fuels anymore. But it will take a massive labor shift to train workers to perform the necessary maintenance and installation of wind, solar, and hydro power. This is an ideal place and time for governments to help their countries workers make the shift. Those that do will be much better prepared for a post-COVID world, especially considering number 2…
Supply chains. COVID has made it obvious that relying on just in time shipping from all across the globe to assemble a single product is a risky endeavor. The pandemic is just one natural disaster in a world that will be increasingly disrupted. The age of globalization is not over, but it has hit its peak and it is time to shorten our supply chains and bring manufacturing home. This is not going to be the jobs bounty some in the Midwest hope. When the jobs come home they will be done by robots, not humans. But, those robots still require energy, and therefore the renewable energy work and mechanical maintenance jobs previously mentioned will be important.
However, from a climate perspective shortening supply chains is a godsend. Transportation is one of the most difficult sectors to reduce emissions as planes and cargo ships can not yet run on renewable energy. Producing goods within the country they are sold in solves this issue. We can use electric trucks for transport and green energy in production. In fact, it is the cheapest production when working domestically. Cutting the supply chains was always going to be a terrible shock to the world economy. But COVID forced countries to re-evaluate and put the breaks on far before they would have voluntarily. We can only hope that companies will now think to the future of sustainability and restart their production in a safer way. Not only from global disruptions such as COVID but also from the future of climate change.
The final hurdle is perhaps the most important for COVID to tackle. Expectations. We live in a world where expectations have never been higher. Globalization has increased standards of living around the world in ways that governments can not go back on now. Hitting the breaks, so to speak, was unthinkable. The pandemic offered the economy a chance to do what many of us have done in lock-downs, to reflect and think about the future before the fast pace of life in the modern world resumed. Consumers around the world took a break from buying in a way that is unprecedented since the age of globalization. This offers us the opportunity to reflect on what parts of that consumption were necessary, and what were not. As supply chains restructure and the world gets back to work in a new greener way, there will be growing pains. This recession will not just end regardless of how we address it.
Recessions reveal the weaknesses of an economy, regardless of whether that weakness caused it. In this case, the weakness was globalization. Something that has helped the world tremendously, but left it running on empty. As we restructure, as governments around the world turn their eyes inwards, it is a scary place economically and politically. But perhaps from a climate perspective, this is what we have been waiting for. This is a time when we are reflecting, pivoting, and readjusting. That is what the world needs to do to save ourselves from the oncoming climate catastrophe. From the fires on the West Coast to super storms on the East, those of us rebuilding lives need to ask “how can we do this better?” Stop. Think. Breathe. Change.