Before rushing to return to normal, we should first rush to define it.
Was the old normal proper, healthy, and right, or should we consider a new, better normal? Mother Nature just pushed “restart” on our society and economy. Should we reboot to the same operating system, or install an upgrade?
While we were social distancing, we were unintentionally forced to recognize what is “critical infrastructure” and what is not. Family, friends, and neighbors are critical. Health care and all that supports it is critical. Food and all that is needed to grow, process, and deliver it is critical. Energy, water and sewer are critical; apparently, so is toilet paper! Schooling is critical but classrooms less so. Workers in these fields all risked personal safety for our good.
Conversely, we were unwillingly forced to recognize non-critical activities, events and entertainments that when prohibited, albeit grudgingly, reduced our travel, cut our expenses and put us back in our homes. Those prohibitions taught us to be more domestic—cooking, pursuing hobbies, music, spending time with family, exercising frugality—and offered the chance to discover what quality time involves. Many workers of non-critical infrastructure became involuntarily unemployed, greatly complicating their lives, adding unwanted stress and complications.
There were unexpected consequences to this global realignment.
Traffic congestion worldwide disappeared. Airplanes stopped flying. Non-critical factories stopped burning fuel and creating waste. Major urban areas, notorious for terrible air quality, quickly became clear. Residents of Punjab India could see the Dhauladhar mountain peaks, over 120 miles away, not sighted from Punjab for almost 30 years. Nitrous dioxide from Chinese factories decreased drastically. Air pollution in Seattle and Los Angeles plummeted.
The 2020 crisis could trigger a 5.5% annual fall in CO2 emissions, the largest ever, more than during any previous economic crisis or period of war, yet still not close to avoiding the global temperature limit. Global emissions need to fall by 7.6% every year this decade to limit warming to less than 1.5 C. 2020 demonstrates only a sample of what needs to be done.
It’s as if Mother Nature finally found a way, after many years of failed subtle hints, to very seriously get our global attention. She got us, at least temporarily, to stop the non-critical things that corrode the air, water, and global temperature. She showed us that supporting critical infrastructure while inhibiting non-critical infrastructure (or substituting something better) actually achieves many of the necessary changes that can resuscitate our long-abused critical and warming biological life support system.
It’s time to re-evaluate “normal.”
We need to shift non-critical jobs to critical-sustainable. We need to re-employ in fields that maintain healthy environments, non-toxic infrastructures that keep our air and water clean, and our globe stable.
The new normal needs to encourage wind power, solar, and the Super Grid, not fight it. Restored jobs need to shift toward sustainable infrastructure, not inefficient and unnecessary excess. Air travel is non-critical. Travel needs to be less and cleaner. We need new rail and to buy more electric passenger vehicles. These create critical jobs, including maintenance, sales, service, communication, planning, material moving, construction, coordination, purchasing, security, all the fields that were lost in the “old normal” non-critical fields. Now is the time to upgrade to better.
If we don’t learn, don’t change, and successfully return to the old corrosive normal, will Mother Nature try again, more drastically yet? I wouldn’t put it past her. Orgel’s second rule states “Evolution is cleverer than you are.” Mother Nature has successfully managed life on earth for over three billion years. People who say “Evolution can’t do this” or “Evolution can’t do that” are simply lacking imagination.
Steve Waller’s family lives in a wind- and solar-powered home. He has been involved with conservation and energy issues since the 1970s and frequently teaches about energy. Steve can be reached at Steve@UPWallers.net.
Excerpted with permission from the Summer 2020 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine. Copyright 2020, Empowering Lightworks, LLC.