by Tim Larsen
As we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, we will all be challenged with the question of what sort of future we see for humanity. The Green Party of Canada has released Reimagining Our Future, an action plan towards achieving the best possible future through government policies.
As citizens of our communities, countries and the world, we each bear a responsibility in creating our post-pandemic future. It was our cultural behaviour that delivered us into the present situation. Government policies, no matter how comprehensive they might be, will not be enough to do this job.
The post Second World War recovery strategy was to develop a public thirst for all things material. The conditions that led to the pandemic were the result of many years of the resulting conspicuous consumption and planned obsolescence. As a strategy to produce economic growth, it was very effective. However, the continual exploitation of natural resources and the resulting environmental damage has been adding up.
The pandemic has forced us to pause our normal behaviour. During these times we have been forced to slow down and there has been an opportunity for us to re-evaluate our values.
Mass consumerism is on pause. The retail business has been impacted as businesses are migrating to online platforms in order to survive. Mass entertainment and professional sports enterprises are struggling to restart in these times of social distancing. International tourism and commercial aviation have also stalled.
The sole positive of the pandemic has been that many people have found the time to be with friends and family. Many workers have gone online to perform their job functions. A number of these workers are reluctant to get back to “normal,” as that will put them back on the pre-pandemic treadmill.
A new consumer ethic needs to come out of this recovery. Food and household goods need to be sourced closer to our homes. Many consumer items were part of a supply chain that was greatly impaired by the pandemic. Most manufacturing had been outsourced to locations where wages are low and environmental considerations are minimal. Many of these products are really “stuff” that does not add to our quality of life. Consumers demanding quality goods produced in our communities will aid in a transition to a healthy economy. A shift in emphasis from quantity to quality will help us achieve healthier, balanced lives.
Staying on the subject of consumer behaviour, sports and entertainment needs to be reconsidered. Professional sports events in front of large crowds are paused. This industry is run by wealthy owners sharing some of the wealth with athletes who are well compensated for playing games. Consumers on the other hand pay exorbitant ticket prices and taxpayers pay for the construction of large sports venues. Sports fans consider themselves involved in sports when they sit in front of their TVs drinking beer and consuming munchies. A far better way of being involved in sports would be supporting local amateur teams, or better yet becoming active and taking part in community sports programs.
While much of the entertainment industry has gone online, live events have been impacted by the pandemic. The large live music venues will be shut down for some time, but small-scale local events will return, again providing a chance to support local talent and the local economy.
We can also improve the way we do transportation and tourism. Mass air travel played a major role in spreading COVID-19 around the world. We were too eager to board a plane to distant destinations for vacation and work. The industry had become a major consumer of government-subsidized fossil fuels and was inflicting damage on the environment. Airlines are now arbitrarily relaxing spacing requirements on board their planes in an effort to improve profitability. There are also appeals for government funds to help return the industry to “normal.” The responsible post-pandemic traveler will reduce long-distance travel, and when travelling or commuting will use energy-efficient transportation propelled by renewable energy. Work-related travel has been replaced for the most part by virtual communication. This trend should continue during and after our recovery.
In our communities, most local transportation should be provided by transit and active transportation. The car should be reduced in importance and be powered by renewable sources exclusively. Communities that rely on these systems can reclaim space for human activity from the automobile.
International tourism, especially cruise ships, played a part in the spread of COVID-19. This was not the first time this industry played a role in spreading a disease. Legionnaire’s disease has been a problem in this industry since 1994. During the present pandemic, some cruise ships had more infection cases than many countries. With their high-density human habitation and air handling systems, these ships proved to be very efficient COVID-19 incubators. This type of tourism should be abandoned for local tourism on a much smaller scale. Again, we should be seeking quality over quantity. By engaging in local tourism we come to appreciate this wonderful province we call home, and we will be generating employment in our communities.
One part of our present predicament that has not been given much attention needs to be mentioned. Endless growth in an infinite environment is not possible. Any effort to continue the growth we have been achieving will end badly. Regardless of what socioeconomic system is involved, the world must collectively agree to embrace a steady state economy. Our First Nations communities had done so for centuries before colonial settlers arrived to mess things up. It’s time to learn from them. Our lives will improve and the planet that has been subject to so much abuse might be able to recover from our assault.