By Alex de Carvalho
The dramatic stoppage of the world’s economic activity as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic brought irreversible changes to how we view ourselves, how we understand our society, and how we relate to our planet.
For some perspective, by the second quarter of 2020, the United States experienced its highest unemployment rate and largest dip in industrial production since the Great Depression. Representing nearly a quarter of the world’s GDP, America’s downturn has a knock-on effect on trading partners, deepening their own slowdowns. Nearly 100 airlines from various countries stopped service, and commercial flight traffic declined by two thirds year-on-year. Hundreds of oil tankers and cruise ships anchored offshore as the world’s docks ran out of slots, with oil futures being dumped at negative prices. Similar effects cascaded throughout various sectors in every country.
This sudden stoppage found most people spending weeks and months at home realizing that no one had their backs: not their government, not their workplace, and for some couples, not even their significant other.
Many governments were underprepared to contain the epidemic and mitigate the impact on healthcare systems. Unemployment compensation and paycheck protection programs were insufficient and often late in arrival. Debates were highly politicized, and reported figures were unreliable. Mainstream media fanned the flames of fear, and unfounded conspiracy theories laid blame on all sorts of rumored factions allegedly operating behind the scenes to control and enslave us.
Many employers laid off workers immediately, particularly those that were deemed non-essential businesses and ordered to close their doors.
Statistics showed a marked increase in domestic violence as couples were confined together for days and weeks at a time.
Faced with these sobering realities, we now find ourselves dealing with our worst worries and fears, and thinking about a better future for ourselves, for the society and country we live in, and for our planet. For many of us, our internal dialogue resembles the following:
“Why was I always so busy prior to the shutdown, and where was I spending all my money? I miss seeing my family and friends, I see that I took my time with them for granted. I fear for my economic future and have gained a new perspective; I need to reprioritize what I value personally and professionally.”
“What happens in one distant corner of the world will affect my corner as well. How does my region compare in responding to this emergency? What role in the world do I want for my country going forward?”
“After just a few weeks of shelter-in-place, animals roam once crowded cities, sea life appears in once busy waterways, and previously polluted skies are clearing. We have significantly impacted the Earth’s resources and biodiversity, it’s time to take better care of our home planet.”
We now have the opportunity to dream up and create a better future for ourselves by valuing a society that supports everyone and by becoming a good custodian of the planet. We have no other choice.