Today is the 50th time we celebrate Earth Day. In other times many of us would have tweeted a “Happy Earth Day” from their SUV’s on the way to the airport.
Today we enjoy unusually clean air, clear skies and much less noise. The Cover pandemic has lead us to a phase of introspection. The balance of outbound and inbound stimulus has shifted significantly – at least for the time being.
Many of us would agree that a big reset button has been pushed. Now is time to envision our future.
I see two conflicting schools of thoughts:
1. “We have to save the economy and don’t have any money to waste on expensive environmental regulations. Let’s deal with that later.”
2. “Now is a unique opportunity to aim for some fundamental changes. It will serve all of us in the short and long run and we might actually save the planet. Maybe we can all embrace a more sustainable lifestyle.”
One area to exemplify the two different approaches would be the German car industry. Pre Covid-19 there was talk about the absolute need to switch to electric cars. That was mostly mandated by new European emission standards.
Yet, there was a ton of push back from many suppliers that would have lost their business. Parts manufacturers would argue with job losses and cancelled investments. They knew they were fighting a losing battle but were trying to drag the inevitable out as much as possible.
That was until the pandemic struck us. Now the manufacturers have already reduced their workforce. The outlook for gas burning German luxury cars is rather slim in a period of economic decline and uncertainty. One could argue that now is exactly the time for fundamental changes and a complete rebuild.
Should scarce resources by used to resurrect industries with dim perspectives in the future?
Or should we not use the same funds towards more future oriented efforts?
You could think if trying to fix an engine while it’s running or while it’s turned off. Right our economy is turned off and that opens the opportunity to think different.
Voter sentiment and ratings still play a big role in Democracies. Even if elections are not around the corner politicians will not pursue many ideas that lead them to lose their core supporters.
This is just one example that came to mind. You could look at the American energy industry as another example. Should we subsidize our fracking industry or should we rather make a substantial push towards renewable energy?
Many people in larger cities are now experiencing the clearest skies decades. Asthma and other diseases are in decline. This might set new benchmarks. Are we ok with giving this up again, just for presumed economical reasons? Or are we ready to fight for clean air? Fighting in this case would translate into ongoing advocacy towards changing our ways. This would mean less overall traveling with sharply reduced emissions.
Here are some other questions I’m tinkering with:
- We are entering a period of lasting economic decline. We’ll all have a litte less, some will have much less. Can this reality be turned into a lifestyle that pounds less on the planet?
- Can we grow food closer to where it’s being eaten?
- Can we build better supply chains?
- Can we reduce the overall need for packaging?
- Can we reduce our need for highly processed food?
- Will cooking more at home be a better option for us and our environment?
We’ve seen a major resurgence in sowing due to our need for home made face masks.
- Could this be transformed into a lasting trend where we go back to fixing slightly damaged clothes instead of instantly replacing them?
- Could this lead to an end of the fast-fashion, ultra-cheap clothing industry?
- Will we see thrift stores thrive as a place of exchange of used goods?
We’ve also seen a big surge in 3D printing.
- Could this lead to building more spare parts and us repairing more household items?
- Could we stop tossing things once they are broken and not immediately replace them?
- Could we reduce the need to ship parts around the world and make them on demand, closer to home?
One big area that was hard to criticize due to its popularity was traveling.
Some of us already had mixed feelings but were reluctant to take the necessary actions.
- Will we see higher flight prices due to a shrinking airline industry (less competition) and declining business travel?
- Will we continue to swarm all major tourist destinations like locusts?
- Will locals take action, curb tourism and forgo wealth for the sake of some peace and quiet?
- Will people reduce their traveling once it is clear that it doesn’t elevate their social status any longer like it use to?
- What other activities can fill the desire for unique experiences?
- How will communities like mine shift where a solid portion of the population is gone at any given time due to their excessive traveling? Will there be more togetherness?
- Is there a future for the cruise ship industry once its economic impact is fully unmasked and it’s clear that social distancing can not be established on these giant vessels?
- Could an appreciation for a cleaner and slightly slower lifestyle lead to a new interest in high-speed passenger trains?
- How do we continue to justify driving around in RV’s that get 5-10 miles per gallon?
The big questions to me are:
- Can we have any fundamental change in a society as divided as ours here in the USA?
- Or, are we showing the middle finger to the rest of the world and continue our excessive lifestyle without consideration for our and the global environment?
- Or, do we acknowledge that there is a void for global leadership to fill, get our act together and take the reins in what’s considered to be the most important conversation of our times?
Followers or leaders…we all have a choice to make.
This is far from a complete list. But it represent my current mindset. I feel that a lot of us are thinking along those lines. We’ll need to integrate our efforts and push for action. I believe it’s bound to happen. That’s why I’m calling this the biggest earth yet.