The pandemic initially was seen as a chance to rethink our ways of over-consumption, just-in-time production, destruction of natural habitat, incessant and unnecessary commuting in the time of video conferencing, as well as cheap and ever-growing travel. Maybe we would be smarter in the future and realize that within all the death and suffering caused by Covid-19, we would at least have jump-started a better future with more in-built redundancies, smarter ways of learning, working and travel? Would not also the global nature of the pandemic demonstrate the need for further global cooperation and peace?
We are still not out of the pandemic, but more and more people (even outside of the conspiracy crowd) are already willing to deny its existence. Yet just because we (including myself!) want it to be over, it does not mean that it is over. As Dr. Osterholm keeps reminding us time and again, “hope is not a strategy.”
Nevertheless, people are travelling with a vengeance again, are driving up demand for consumption (which has contributed to inflation due to still reduced supply), Russia is waging its genocidal war against Ukraine, China keeps ogling Taiwan and expanding in the Pacific, Yemen and Congo and South Sudan and too many other places are still not at peace, people have stopped cooking and returned to their junk food ways, and we are back to our bad old ways.
The message that people seem to have taken away from the management of the pandemic seems to be clear: Don’t you ever again tell me what to do and what not do. Politics is getting the message – either voluntarily or through the voting booth, either sooner or later: People don’t want to change their behaviors, and sometimes they can’t. Our entire culture has been built around the automobile since the 1950s – mostly in the Americas and Australia, but also in large parts of Europe and Asia – and cars are here to stay. Even electric cars need energy, raw materials for the batteries, and tires (which contribute heavily to particle pollution once the rubber hits the road). Russia’s war is also reminding us that we are far from ready to abandon fossil fuels (ironically, Germany – who likes to pretend it is especially dedicated to environmentalism – is learning that lesson the hard way).
People also don’t like to be nudged or otherwise manipulated. They are smart enough to see through that – and know very well that any “green new deal” – however necessary an ecological readjustment may be – will eventually mean that everybody will have to pay for it, and that contrary to transparent political promises to do this in a “socially just” way, the “little guy” will bear the brunt of this as usual.
As a result, it will be “full steam ahead.” People may feel the pressure to behave in more environmentally friendly ways, but not much will come of that – and if you force them, they will vote to keep their standard of living. We want stuff, we want it now, and we don’t care about the future until it is too later. You may not like this, you may yourself not think like that, but better be prepared to accept such a reality rather than to waste time on endless dreaming about an ecological future where we all prefer to live in an ecotopia with less consumption, less technology, and resemble a hippie commune more than a 21st century technopolis.
Even the “Friday for Future” and “Extinction Rebellion” kids don’t want that, no matter what they say: their lifestyles are just as much tied into the global overconsumption spiral (if not more so) than those of their parents and grandparents. New smartphones every year, smart homes, other gadgets, 24/7 internet use, fast fashion, fast food – Greta’s message has been heard but culturally dismissed, it seems. (Should you wonder about my own youthful concerns about the environment, you will find plenty of pessimism as to our ecological future in my early poems, in German. I can quite relate with Greta).
The only way out for us seems to be technological. More of the same, but better. Our energy needs will only increase. Global population will stabilize once global standards of living are harmonized and most countries will allow for “Western” lifestyles. We will need to out-innovate ourselves out of this crisis. The behavior of people now, during what many see as the tail end of the Covid-19 pandemic, tells you everything you need to know, whether you like it or not.
This better work.