Not a Cause but a Trigger

SUBHEAD: This corona virus pandemic may cause civilization to collapse for good reasons.

By Ugo Bardi on 16 April 2020 for Cassandra's Legacy -
(https://cassandralegacy.blogspot.com/2020/04/collapse-coronavirus-is-not-cause-it-is.html)


Image above: Illustration by Steven Castelluccia of economic collapse caused by pandemic a peak consumption. From original article.

Do you remember the story of the straw that broke the camel’s back? It is an illustration of how overloaded systems are sensitive to small perturbations. Could the COVID-19 epidemic be the straw that breaks the back of the world’s economy?

Like an overloaded camel, the world’s economy is strained by at least two tremendous burdens: one is the increasing costs of production of mineral resources (don’t be fooled by the current low prices of oil: prices are one thing, costs are another). Then, there is pollution, including climate change, also weighing on the economy.

These two factors define the condition called “overshoot,” occurring when an economic system is consuming more resources than nature can replace. Sooner or later, an economy in overshoot has to come to terms with reality. It means that it can’t continue to grow: it must decline.

These considerations can be quantified. It was done for the first time in 1972 with the famous report The Limits to Growth sponsored by the Club of Rome. Widely disbelieved at the time, today we recognize that the model used for the study had correctly identified the trends of the world’s economy.

The results of the study showed that the double burden of resource depletion and pollution would bring economic growth first to a halt and then cause it to collapse, probably at some moment during the first decades of the 21st century.

Even with very optimistic assumptions on the availability of natural resources and of new technologies the calculations show that the collapse could at best be postponed, but not avoided.

Many later studies confirmed these results: collapse turns out to be a typical feature of systems in overshoot, a phenomenon called sometimes the “Seneca Cliff” from a sentence of the ancient Roman philosopher Lucius Annaeus Seneca.



Image above: Chart of the projections by the Club of Rome in March 1972 showing the projected " Limits to Growth". Note now in 2020 we have recently passed maximum food production and industrial output per person and are approaching maximum pollution as we slide down the steepest losses of resources. From (https://damnthematrix.wordpress.com/2012/04/11/so-much-for-debunking-the-club-of-rome/)

The coronavirus, in itself, is a minor perturbation, but the system is poised for collapse and the epidemics may trigger it. We already saw how the world’s economy is fragile: it nearly collapsed in 2008 under the relatively small perturbation of the crash of the subprime mortgage market.

At that time, it was possible to contain the damage but, today, the fragility of the system has not improved and the coronavirus may be a stronger perturbation.

The collapse of entire sectors of the economy, such as the tourism industry (more than 10% of the world’s gross product), is already ongoing and it may be impossible to stop it from spreading to other sectors.

So, what exactly is it going to happen to us? Since we started with mentioning a camel, we may also mention a famous statement by Shaykh Rāshid that we can summarize as, "My father rode a camel, I drive a Mercedes, my son will ride a camel." Might that sentence have been truly prophetic?

Indeed, the coming crisis might turn out to be so bad to push us back to the Middle Ages. But it is also true that all major epidemics in history have seen a robust rebound after the collapse.

Consider that, in the mid-14th century, the “black death” killed perhaps 40% of the population of Europe but, a century later, Europeans were discovering America and starting their attempt of conquering the world. It may be that the black death was instrumental in this rebound: the temporary reduction of the European population had freed the resources necessary for a new leap forward.

Could we see a similar rebound of our society in the future? Why not? After all, the coronavirus could be doing us a favor by forcing us to abandon the obsolete and polluting fossil fuels we use today. The current low market prices are the result of the contraction of the demand and are likely to be the straw that breaks the back of the oil industry. That will leave space for new and more efficient technologies.

Today, solar energy has become so cheap that it is possible to think of a society fully based on renewable energy. It won’t be easy, but recent studies show that it can be done.

That doesn’t mean that the near term collapse can be avoided. The transition to a new energy infrastructure will require enormous investments, impossible to find in a moment of economic contraction we expect for the near future.

But, in the long run, the transition is unavoidable and there is hope for a "Seneca rebound" toward a new society based on clean and renewable energy, no more plagued by the threats of depletion and climate change.

It will take time, but we can heal the poor camel’s back.

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A Way Down

SUBHEAD: There's a solution to global warming, energy crisis, loss of biosphere and over-population.

By Juan Wilson on 19 April 2020 for IslandBreath.org -
(https://islandbreath.blogspot.com/2020/04/a-way-down.html)


Image above: Up a tree? Your options are waiting to get rescued or climbing down. And I don't hear any sirens approaching. From (https://ui.uncc.edu/story/eastern-cottonwood-native-nc-tree).

My father became a practicing physician around 1950. For a while he had his office in our home in Levittown and did daily house calls and hospital visits. He delivered many babies and watched many people die. My sister, mother and I would hear details of these events at the dinner table.

I remember him using a phrase about dying that was "common knowledge" back then... "Pneumonia was the Old Peoples' Friend". That because if left untreated pneumonia causes  the patient to lapse into a state of reduced consciousness, slipping peacefully away in their sleep, thus giving a peaceful end to a period of often considerable suffering. Some would say an easy way out.

Well, the COVID-19 pandemic is having a two pronged impact on human civilization... basically ending it. It is causing a collapse of the energy, and resource consumption that is driving the destruction of the planet in the support of about seven billion too many people inhabiting the Earth today.

It's a place we have to climb down from... either voluntarily, by plan, or otherwise.

For much of my life my fear has been that the means would be a world-wide nuclear war involving untold thousands of atomic weapons being detonated in an exchange between America, Russia, China etc. Fortunately, that has not happened.

Nuclear armagedon would be much worse than the impact of COVID-19 to people and, more importantly, to all life on Earth.

Even without nuclear war we are on a track to destroy life on Earth. Our insane destruction of the biosphere in search of energy, resources and new places to "develop" have brought us in site of the end of the road for our species.... and many others.

A thinning of the heard is at hand. The reduction in human rapacity provided by the linkage of pandemic and economic collapse has cleared pollution from the skies over China. We could respond to our current predicament by abandoning "Economic Growth" as the "American Way of Life".

We could go back to small farms in local communities as it was before World War One. That was about the time we lost our connection to the land. Remember that 1919 song by Harry Fay, "How are You Going to Keep Them Down on the Farm?"
How you going to keep them down on the farm
After they've seen Paree?
How you going to keep them away from Broadway,
Jazzing around, painting the town?
How you going to keep them away from harm?
That's a mystery.
They'd wish they'd never seen a rake or plow,
So who the heck can parlez-vous a cow,
How you gonna keep them down on the farm,
After they've seen Paree?
Serious urbanization resulted from the coal and oil fueled economies that have flourished in the past century and a half. Since World War Two the mass production in automobiles fueled by cheap oil encouraged the surroundings of cities to be expanded with endless suburbs. Consumption became a stampede.

And here we are.  Sheltering in place and beginning to realize a new normal.

The only way out alive is to a more localized way of life.

It's time to climb down fro our dangerous perch to a changed landscape... to  grow food, make music!


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Fligfht Path

SUBHEAD: The “wealth” acquired  by “one-percenters” was loaded onto a defective Boeing 737.

By James Kunstler on 17 April 2020 for Clusterfuck Nation -
(https://kunstler.com/clusterfuck-nation/flight-path/)


Image above: In 2013, a two-month-old Boeing 737-800, operated by LionAir, undershot the runway at Bali Airport, crashing into the water. Half the 108 passengers were injured. Luckily there were no fatalities. From (https://airwaysmag.com/industry/lion-air-boeing-737max8-crashes/).

This age of battling narratives tends to conceal the broken consensus behind it. What’s gone is a broad social agreement that there are certain fundamental realities, and then codes of conduct that follow from them. When anything goes, don’t expect people to do the right thing, or even know what it is.

The Covid-19 debacle presents just such a set of quandaries and puzzles. For many people stewing in quarantine, the virus is just another evil phantom lurking in the permanent twilight zone of television, and even there, among the familiar jabbering figments, there’s little agreement about it. The statistical projections mutate weekly.

 It’s no worse than any annual flu… It’s a savage illness that attacks every organ in the body, leaves survivors maimed, and you can even catch it again… The lockdowns are imperative… the lockdowns amount to economic suicide… There’s no sorting it all out, and the uncertainty itself is intolerable.

The only certainty is that most of the people in lockdown are going broke fast. By any ordinary rules, they are wiped out. They can’t even pretend anymore to keep juggling all those monthly payments for rent or mortgages, food, the cars, the medical insurance, the electricity, the cable, and on and on.

The $1200 mad money checks promised by Uncle Sam are little consolation for that, and the small business “loans” ­– if you can even jump through the infuriating hoops to get them – just pile on an additional layer of obligation in a lifetime of debt serfdom.

You don’t have to leap too many steps ahead mentally to imagine utter personal ruin on that glide path. And so what if millions of others are feeling squashed by the same phantom forces of disease and finance?

One firm reality is this: the global debt system that supported the turbo-charged global economy was disintegrating badly in the early fall of 2019, threatening every financial asset and the markets that affected to manage them ­­– and all the operations of modern daily life that they represented.

Nowhere on earth was the debt load more out-of-control than in China, where there were no constraints whatsoever on the banks’ accounting fraud, since they answered solely to the ruling party, which had but one overarching policy: to keep ruling.

And the biggest economic fiction of all was that China could maintain its supernatural growth rates in a world that had actually reached the limits of growth. Mr. Trump’s trade wars sent tremors through the system. A whole lot of bad loans were about to be flushed down the drain.

Banks everywhere else felt the vibrations, too, you may be sure. The Wuhan virus was, at least, a very convenient distraction from all that. And then, the darn thing got loose on countless airplane flights around the world.

The Covid-19 corona virus didn’t initiate the financial disorders of the moment in the US and Europe, but it ensured that there would not be another appearance of any “recovery” a la the central bank interventions of 2008-09.

What it portends is a fast-track journey to a whole new disposition of things: first, for a while, a harsher, hungrier, angrier society of broken promises and dashed expectations; and then adaptation when a consensus emerges that the set of facts at hand amount to a new reality. In the meantime, we’re living in the meantime, which is not a comfortable place.

Money is not an economy. Money is a medium of exchange within an economy where people grow things, make things, move things, and serve each other in countless ways. We’re not going to replace all those growings, makings, movings, and services by just giving people money.

Money may produce more money by the magic of compound interest, but money is not necessarily wealth, it just represents our ideas about wealth, and interest stops compounding anyway when the trend is clearly for reduced growings, makings, movings, and servicings. That’s exactly how and why capital vanishes.

The hocus-pocus of Modern Monetary Theory can only pretend to work around that reality.

The world never reached such a pitch of activity up to the blow-ups of 2008, and it went through the motions for a decade after that. Now that it’s stopped, all that’s left is the law of gravity, and it doesn’t get more basic.

The “wealth” acquired in the decade since by the so-called “one-percent” was loaded onto a defective aircraft, like a Boeing 737-MAX, and an awful lot of it will fall to earth now on broken wings. Their agents and praetorians on Wall Street are working feverishly to stave off that crash-landing, like a band of magicians casting spells on the ground while that big hunk of juddering metal augers earthward.

Wait for it as spring brings new life across the land and things unseen before steal onto the scene.

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End of Growth Nears

SUBHEAD: Pandemic response will require a Post-Growth economic thinking and action.

By Richard Heinberg on 10 April 2020 for Common Dreams -
(https://www.commondreams.org/views/2020/04/09/pandemic-response-requires-post-growth-economic-thinking)


Image above: Aerial view of polluted overcrowded Seoul, South Korea. Seoul is a major world city engaged in supporting a growth oriented economy. From (https://www.greenpeace.org/international/story/26506/the-end-of-infinite-growth/).

Amid a horrific human tragedy of sickness and death, much of it taking place in hospitals staffed by brave but overworked and under-equipped doctors and nurses, we are all learning once again what it feels like when economic growth comes to a shuddering stop and the economy goes into reverse—shrinking and consuming itself.

Millions have been thrown out of work, untold numbers of businesses shuttered. The St. Louis Federal Reserve estimates that Q2 unemployment could clock in as high as 32.1 percent (for comparison, unemployment at the depths of the Great Depression was 25 percent, and during the Great Recession of 2008-2010 it peaked at 10 percent)

Though radical measures must now be adopted to slow the spread of the coronavirus, those measures are having toxic side effects on the economy.

Yet, economic growth was bound to end at some point, with or without the virus. A few moments of critical thought confirm that the exponential expansion of the economy—whose physical processes inevitably entail extracting natural resources and dumping polluting wastes—is destined to reach limits, given the obvious and verifiable fact that we live on a finite planet.

However, we also happen to live in a human social world in which a decades-long spurt of economic and population growth, based on the snowballing exploitation of a finite supply of fossil fuels, has become normalized, so that world leaders have come to agree that growth can and must continue forever.

In response to this situation, clear-eyed systems and environmental scientists have, during the past few decades, proposed policies either to transition the global economy away from its near-suicidal requirement for infinite growth, or to cushion the impact when growth limits are finally reached.

At first, this post-growth train of thought was so marginalized by mainstream economists that few educated people were even aware of its existence. In other words, it lay entirely outside the Overton window of acceptable public discourse.

Then, in 2008, the wheels of the financial bus that we were all riding fell off, and there was an opening for discussion about different ways of organizing the economy. During the early recovery period after the global financial crisis, I presented a natural-limits-based view of economics in my book The End of Growth, in which I summarized heterodox policy proposals for getting society on a sustainable track without destroying livelihoods.

However, central banks and national governments managed temporarily to bail out the wizards and quants who had precipitated the crisis, restarted the growth machine, and thereby narrowed the Overton window once again.

Still, during the decade that followed, a seed of post-growth economic thinking was planted and began to sprout. In Europe, ecological economists and environmental activists organized “degrowth” conferences

The tiny nation of Bhutan, which had been experimenting since the 1970s with Gross National Happiness (GNH) as an alternative to Gross Domestic Product (GDP), tallied up its findings and argued at the United Nations that other countries should likewise aim for widespread social satisfaction rather than growth in monetary exchange.

Groups promoting public bankingmushroomed across the U.S., and articles about Modern Monetary Theory(MMT) and Universal Basic Income (UBI) appeared in major news outlets; the latter was even promoted by an early contender for the Democratic Party presidential nomination.

Still, the economic priesthood held tight to its dogma. Although it was patently illogical, the demand for endless growth continued to be defended using tortured reasoning and cherry-picked statistics. We can grow in green ways, the orthodox economists insisted—ways that don’t impact the environment. Well, it’s true that we can use resources more efficiently, we can recycle more, and we can find ways to reduce the toxicity of the wastes we produce.

But the fact remains: over time, a growing economy will eventually and inevitably take up more ecological space than one that does not grow.

Even the richest man in the world, who made his hundreds of billions of dollars from consumers, came to the conclusion that there are limits to energy and gains in efficiency, and that we face a future on this planet of limits. (He, less surprisingly, came to a different solution than I and other “limits to growthers” would offer, his being that we should harvest the moon and colonize space.)

Now, the coronavirus pandemic has seismically shifted the discussion once again. The Overton window is broken and the wall that held it has caved in. Suddenly the first priority of world leaders is no longer economic growth; instead, it is public safety. Lives must be saved and health care systems salvaged regardless of the short-term hit to profits, employment, and investment returns.

This sea change in priorities requires entirely different thinking and policies—ones much more closely aligned with heterodox post-growth thinking than with pro-growth economic orthodoxy.

Here is a quick survey of the post-growth economic policies recently introduced by sustainability theorists, and a brief discussion of how and whether each is relevant to our new pandemic-obsessed moment.

Universal Basic Income (UBI)

UBI is a government plan for providing all citizens with a given sum of money, regardless of their income or employment status. The purpose is to prevent or reduce poverty and inequality. However, UBI would also be useful in a post-growth scenario. Suppose, for example, that a nation decided to lower its greenhouse gas emissions by restructuring its economy so as to substantially reduce energy usage and material throughput.

Eventually, many people could transition from jobs in airlines and other energy-intensive industries to become food producers and small-scale manufacturers within more localized economies (see below). But, over the short run, substantial numbers would be thrown out of work; how to avoid widespread economic hardship and social instability in the interim? Answer: UBI.

The U.S. federal government’s just-passed stimulus plan includes the equivalent of a nascent UBI: It mandates one-time cash payments of $1,200 for each adult and $500 per child. It also sets aside $367 billion to help small businesses and $500 billion for loans to larger industries. (The Fed is meanwhile buying corporate bonds and securities from hedge funds, to the tune of trillions, putting the Treasury on the hook for them.)

There is ongoing discussion among policy wonks about longer-term cash paymentsto individuals; if this indeed happens, the U.S. will be officially experimenting with UBI.

But where’s the money to come from? For the time being, it’s being conjured through a cozy arrangement between Congress and the Federal Reserve: Congress issues debt, which the Fed buys—without requirement for interest payments. This brings us to:

Modern Monetary Theory (MMT)


MMT says that monetarily sovereign countries like the U.S., U.K., Japan, and Canada are not limited by tax revenues or borrowing when it comes to federal government spending. They can create as much digital or paper money as they need, and are (or should be) the legal monopoly issuers of their currency. Therefore, they should be able to create and spend as much energy as needed to create full employment.

I must confess some skepticism with regard to MMT. It’s obvious how it would be useful in a crisis; but, over the longer term, if the money supply is growing faster than energy and materials, the result must be inflation.

 In fairness, Modern Monetary Theorists have given considerable thought to the problem of inflation, and have come up with ways of limiting it—such as by levying deficit-reducing taxes, during times of full employment, to reduce aggregate demand.

Yet, in my experience, most Modern Monetary Theorists follow conventional economists in mistakenly assuming that energy and natural resources are effectively infinite, rather than finite and depleting. By focusing just on employment, they miss the essential basis of all economic productivity.

In any case, a crisis is what we have: Governments and central banks are being forced to resort to a form of MMT because of a sudden, dramatic spike in unemployment. And, over the short term, money printing is an essential economic tonic.

However, over the longer term, the best outcome would be achieved if the current crisis forces economists to think anew about the nature of money itself—what it is, how it is created, and what are is social effects. Most economists still think of money as simply a medium of exchange, but it is better understood as storable, quantifiable, and transferrable social power.

Renegade economist Steve Keen points out that conventional economic theory does a surprisingly poor job of explaining money and debt. Alternative currency theorists like Thomas Greco do a much better job of it.

Ecological and biophysical economists—the vanguard of post-growth economists—go even further. They start with realistic assessments of finite energy sources and natural resources, then explore how economic systems could fairly harvest and distribute resources without depleting nature’s stores over time.

For starters, they propose taxing all financial transactionsand requiring banks to hold 100 percent reserves. They also tend to hold to the principle, first propounded by American economist Henry George (1839-1897), that each person should own what he or she creates, but that everything found in nature, most importantly land, should belong equally to all humanity.

Public Banks

Today most money is created by private banks through the process of issuing loans. Digital money is called into existence when a loan is granted; when the loan is repaid, that money vanishes. The problem is, interest must be paid on the loan, and the money needed to pay that interest isn’t created when the loan is issued. The borrower must earn or borrow money for interest payments from elsewhere.

As long as the overall economy is growing, that’s usually possible. But if the economy isn’t growing, defaults ensue. Lending slows to a dribble, with more money disappearing than is being created. That’s called a deflationary depression, and it’s something to be avoided if possible—though it’s an inevitable feature of debt-based economies in a finite world.

As a solution, why not create government-run public banks that loan money at no interest, at least in the cases of businesses that are operating for the public good? For example, if a state decided that it was in the public interest to promote renewable energy, its state bank could make zero-interest loans to solar installers.

Public banks have a long history, and operate in many nations. In the U.S., the prime example is the Bank of North Dakota, which partners with private banks to loan money to farmers, schools, and small businesses.

The idea of public banks is closely tied to MMT; think of public banks as MMT at the retail level. So far, the pandemic has not provoked wide interest in public banking; but, as the incipient recession deepens and lengthens, expect this to be a subject of increasing discussion.

Gross National Happiness (GNH)

In 1972, Bhutan’s 16-year-old King Jigme Singye Wangchuck used the phrase “Gross National Happiness” to describe the economy that would serve his country’s Buddhist-influenced culture. The label stuck, and soon the Centre for Bhutan Studies set out to develop a survey instrument to measure the Bhutanese people’s general sense of well-being. That survey instrument measures nine domains:
  • Time use
  • Living standards
  • Good governance
  • Psychological well-being
  • Community vitality
  • Culture
  • Health
  • Education
  • Ecology
Bhutan’s efforts to boost GNH have led to the banning of plastic bags and re-introduction of meditation into schools, as well as a “go-slow” approach toward the standard economic development pathway paved by costly infrastructure projects paid for with huge loans from international banks.

There’s nothing in the recent stimulus package that resembles GNH, but policy makers increasingly could be forced into considering something like it, out of necessity. As people are stuck at home for long periods, some are descending into loneliness and depression brought on by isolation; others are filling their time with art, music, home schooling, and gardening.

Leaders will eventually realize they must do something to discourage the former and encourage the latter. They may eventually conclude that gauging their success using GDP is pointless, and that directly measuring safety, health, and life satisfaction makes a lot more sense.

The Sharing Economy

The last time the U.S. suffered through an economic depression, in the 1930s, government economists and leaders of industry responded by creating a new economic paradigm—consumerism. Henceforth American citizens would be termed consumers, whose duty is to buy and discard products at an ever-accelerating rate so as to steadily increase overall employment levels, the size of the economy, returns on investments, and government tax revenues.

Two key strategies of consumerism were planned obsolescence, in which products were designed to have limited useful lifetimes, or to soon become aesthetically undesirable in comparison with new versions of the same product; and redundant consumption, in which individuals were encouraged through advertising to prefer owning their own products (such as cars and lawn mowers) rather than sharing them with family members, neighbors, or friends.

Unfortunately, while consumerism succeeded in overcoming the problem of overproduction (which was one of the causes of the Great Depression), it resulted in the steady ramping up of resource consumption.

At the same time, it had a negative impact on many people’s psychological health, as they spent more time viewing advertising messages and shopping, and less time engaging with family, friends, and nature.

The idea of the sharing economy took hold around the time of the Great Recession of 2008; it proposed a peer-to-peer (P2P) way of organizing the economy in which the sharing of goods and services is facilitated by community-based online platforms. Many pioneers of the sharing economy were motivated by the ecological ideal of reducing overall consumption levels.

Unfortunately, however, the sharing economy quickly became equated with the gig economy, and with ride-sharing apps like Uber and Lyft—which promised to eliminate the perceived need for everyone to own a car, and thereby reduce carbon emissions from transportation. Unfortunately, it turned out that Uber and Lyft generate more carbon emissions than the trips they displace, and aren’t always model employers.

Nevertheless, the original ideals of the sharing economy persist among advocates of the maker movement, collaborative consumption, the solidarity economy, open source software, transition towns, open government, and social enterprise—as well as bridging organizations like

Shareable, whose founder, Neal Gorenflo, has some ideas on why sharing is even more important during the pandemic, and how we could seize the current moment this as an opportunity to come together in cooperation and mutual aid even though we remain separated physically.

Green New Deal (GND)

GND proposals circulating in the U.S. prior to the pandemic aimed to provide 100 percent renewable energy in 10 to 20 years while supporting job retraining and aiding communities impacted by climate change.

Some proposals also included a carbon tax (often with a fee-and-dividend structure that would rebate funds to low-income people so they could afford more costly energy services), incentives for green investment, public banks, measures to re-regulate the financial system, and the first steps toward a global Marshall Plan.

While GND advocates seldom publicly acknowledge that economic growth is both ephemeral and antithetical to a livable environment, their proposals are nevertheless largely consistent with policy advice post-growth thinkers.

The coronavirus pandemic cuts both ways with regard to climate change. Emissions are down, because businesses are closed and people are staying home. But the transition to renewable energy has slowed to a crawl. If we’re to move to a post-carbon economy, we’ll need massive investment in post-carbon transportation, building heating, manufacturing, and agriculture.

President Trump has signaled he wants Congress to appropriate a couple of trillion dollars for infrastructure spending, but what he has in mind are subsidies for existing fossil fuel-dependent industries. MMT notwithstanding, the nation’s money pot is not bottomless. If we are to have a Green New Deal, it must come soon.

Resilience

We have made the world more economically efficient by lengthening supply chains to take advantage of the cheapest labor and raw materials anywhere they exist, and by minimizing inventories with just-in-time supply strategies; but the result has been a withering of resilience—the ability to recover and adapt to a crisis or disruption.

Post-growth thinkers tend to agree that the structural unsustainability of modern industrial economies has created a series of crises that are lined up to bite—from climate change to the threat of global pandemics. Therefore, preparing for the post-growth era requires building resilience—particularly at the community level.

Suddenly, in this moment of broken supply chains, and shortages of toilet paper, masks, and ventilators, the argument for resilience is easier to make: there are perfectly obvious reasons to shorten supply chains, and establish strategic stockpiles that are distributed locally. Trump’s ham-fisted attempt to renegotiate globalization via tariffs hardly counts as a step in that direction.

Unfortunately, because world leaders previously didn’t listen to resilience advocates sooner, we will all be paying a price for some time to come.

Localism

The lengthening of supply chains is the essence of globalization; if this has made us more vulnerable to crisis, then it stands to reason that we should re-localize some of our economic activity.

Post-growth thinkers have been advocating localism for decades. Naturally there are objections and questions: What about xenophobia? What about sharing knowledge and best practices across cultures?

What about global cooperation to meet global challenges like climate change? In answer, localists say we needn’t view the recovery of local knowledge, local culture, and local economic vitality as all-or-nothing. Think of it as the rebalancing of a system that has become lopsided and dangerously unstable.

Meanwhile, in nations like the United States, where national leadership during the pandemic is absent or inept, citizens are being forced into thinking and acting more locally. Localism can have either a welcoming or an exclusionary face; it’s up to us to choose. Fortunately, many people so far seem to be choosing to be neighborly.

The end of growth is painful. We had a foretaste of it in 2008, but the current crisis promises to be much worse. Our leaders are flying blind, just as they were during the Global Financial Crisis over a decade ago. We were unprepared for it, just as we were for the pandemic and the economic carnage that is accompanying it.

However, there are people who have been anticipating a moment like this for decades. If we are willing now to listen and learn from post-growth thinkers, the crisis and its aftermath can be a process of adaptation that leaves us more locally resilient, happier, and more connected.

That’s not to downplay the immensity of the task. Redesigning national economies in the midst of crisis is a challenge perhaps comparable to redesigning an airplane in mid-air, while attempting to make a safe landing.

Navigating the end of growth will require courage, new thinking, flexibility, and a willingness to make mistakes.

It’s understandable why, during “normal” times, people want to stick with what’s familiar. But we’re no longer in normal times. We are in a moment that requires us to undertake bold changes that have been put off for far too long.

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Weird Days

SUBHEAD: A list of some of the odd experiences of disasters in my lifetime.

By Juan Wilson on 15 April 2020 for Island Breath -
(https://islandbreath.blogspot.com/2020/04/weird-days.html)


Image above: Photo of garbage piled into street in Manhattan, NY, during 1968 garbage strike. From (https://accesscities.org/nycrfei-pilot-for-public-realm-refuse-and-recyclingsolutionsrequest-for-expressionsof-interest-rfei/).

These are weird days and they seem to be leading to a major reset of life on Earth. The lists below are calamities I have lived through or witnessed through media in my lifetime.

Personally Experienced
Cuban Missile Crisis 1962 (We thought World War 3 was at hand)
(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cuban_Missile_Crisis)

North East Blackout 1965 (lived in Boston. People thought WW3 had begun)
(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Northeast_blackout_of_1965)

NYC Garbage Strike 1968 (Lived in Lower East side. Garbage up past windows slid into streets)
(https://untappedcities.com/2015/02/11/today-in-nyc-history-the-great-garbage-strike-of-1968/)

OPEC Oil Embargo 1973 (A few people were shot to death for jumping long lines at gas stations)
(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1973_oil_crisis)

Iran US Embassy Crisis 1979 (I lived in Iran 1975-76 and saw what preceded revolution)
(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iran_hostage_crisis)

Witnessed Through Mass Media
Exxon Valdis Oil Spill 1989 (Effects included the deaths as many as 250,000 seabirds)
(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exxon_Valdez_oil_spill)

Bangladesh Cyclone 1991 (over 135,000 people killed) 
(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1991_Bangladesh_cyclone)

World Trade Center Attack 2001 (over 2,700 people killed)
(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/September_11_attacks)

Tohoku Earthquake & Tsunami 2011 (over 15,000 people killed)
(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2011_Tōhoku_earthquake_and_tsunami)

When you look at the numbers of fatalities the World Trade Center collapse was not nearly as lethal as the other disasters listed above. But maybe it was so traumatic for Americans because it was a disaster created by humans intentionally and involved a symbol of American prowess. It was also witnessed live in the streets of New York and by millions on television.

Simultaneously Experiencing
Corona Virus Pandemic 2020 & Worldwide Economic Collapse 2020

These current disasters are interrelated and will transform the world in ways that will be in Nature's interest and ultimately our human interest. It's past time for a reset.


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Covid-19: A Best Case Scenario

SUBHEAD: Imagining the aftermath of the pandemic and monetary collapse as a time of rebirth.

By Atossa Araxia Abrahamian on 20 March 2020 for the Nation -
(https://www.thenation.com/article/world/coronavirus-future-fiction/)


Image above: A view of optimism from a perspective of Islam. From (https://aboutislam.net/spirituality/be-optimistic-about-the-future-trust-in-allahs-plan/).

The virus made itself known in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December in the form of a respiratory illness not unlike pneumonia.

At first, no one knew quite where the disease had come from, but it seemed to touch workers at a wet market where exotic live animals were sold.

Before long, a 61-year-old man with preexisting health conditions died. He’d been a regular at the market, so they blamed the bats, then the pangolins, then the shoppers who procured these delicacies, and finally, just China.

Within weeks, the region was on lockdown, and flights were canceled.

But it was too late for containment. The virus had taken up residence in lungs and on fingertips, clothing and cardboard. Deterred only by soap and water, it traveled far and wide: to South Korea and Thailand, to Seattle and London.

One case was detected in the prophetically named French ski town of Contamines; a large outbreak occurred in Milan before spreading thick and fast throughout Italy. Hospital wards filled.

People panic-shopped for hand sanitizer and, bafflingly, toilet paper. On January 30, the World Health Organization declared the virus a public health emergency; six weeks later, it deemed the crisis a full-blown pandemic.

As winter gave way to spring, the virus crept into schools, cafés, subway cars, and nursing homes. Universities closed dorms and moved to conduct classes online. Remote work protocols were adopted. Service work dried up, dealing cab drivers and waiters and aestheticians an economic blow.

Children were told to stay home from school; parents were not told what to do with their children. But we are social creatures, unfit for long periods of solitude. When large gatherings were shut down, phone calls went unscreened and were even answered. People checked in. People cared.

As the plague spread, the human cost was staggering. Tens of thousands died. Millions more were sickened. It hit the elderly the hardest, as well as those with underlying conditions. The funeral industry boomed, as did the appeal of apocalyptic cults and slickly branded start-up religions.

Fortunately, children were mostly spared, and communities came together to make sure they caught up on their schoolwork in the absence of classrooms, courses, and teachers.

Facing anger, outrage, and grief from their citizens, governments realized that those who could not do their jobs remotely—not to mention those whose work had dried up–would be destitute if they did not receive significant aid.

So that’s what workers received: help, in the form of cash, food, and services. Means-testing went out the window. Work requirements were a joke. Debt payments and water bills and evictions were suspended, then canceled altogether.

Central banks enacted radical measures to stimulate the economy. There were no interest rates left to cut, so lending turned into giving.

No one asked where all the money was coming from, because everyone understood that this was where it had always come from. Some states actually ended up saving money: the happy result of all wars’ being put on hold thanks to a unanimous resolution in the UN Security Council.

Iran reached a détente with Israel after medical researchers banded together to develop a treatment that saved the life of millions, including former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The treatment prevented him from infecting his cellmates in his supermax prison; he ended up succumbing to a stroke.

All but a tiny number of inmates in the United States were released. State funerals for politicians who said they could pray their way out of becoming sick were broadcast online, but attended by no one.

Military contractors started churning out medical supplies; soldiers mobilized to build homes and hospitals; unemployed workers pledged to build small-scale local green infrastructure. Austerity became a distant nightmare of the past.

With the airline industry in shambles and industrial activity at a virtual standstill, carbon emissions dropped dramatically. Demand for oil dried up, too.

Endangered species, unaffected by the virus, began to proliferate. Bats were studied and revered for their immunity to this virus, and many others. Pangolins were never seen at the dinner table again.

Because of stringent precautionary measures and warmer temperatures, the virus did not hit African states as hard as Western ones—a small mercy that nonetheless pushed countries there to establish a continental health system, with the help of the World Health Organization and an interest-free grant from the World Trade Organization, which changed its mission statement entirely.

Instead of lending to economically ailing nations, it would pool funding and make debt-free development grants, reasoning it was the only way to avoid a market crash.

Refugees living in camps—in South America, Lebanon, Greece, and beyond—were rehoused in decent accommodations to cut back on the risk of spreading the infection. They helped with relief efforts, earning them the admiration of locals and helping them integrate in their new homes.

Under the crushing weight of an overburdened health care system, countries began recognizing each others’ medical licenses, easing visa restrictions on doctors and nurses from less affected regions to emigrate and offering high-quality health care to everyone, no questions asked.

People necessarily crossed fewer borders, but when they did, they were greeted with open arms.

The TSA stopped banning liquids on flights, beginning with 12-ounce containers of hand sanitizer. Scientists worked around the clock to develop vaccines; philanthropists poured money into the initiative, even though they would no longer receive tax breaks for their efforts.

As their daily lives were upended, reorganized, and reimagined by the demands of the pandemic and the community, workers around the world adjusted to their new rhythms.

In China, where the crisis began, months of lockdown gave way to blue skies and clean breezes. The smog had cleared—a result of massive factory shutdowns. The sun shone brighter. It was easier to breathe.

Young peopled wondered, Why couldn’t the air be so clean every day? Why did they have to choose?

Farmers even found their livestock thriving, and their crops growing better—a consequence of cleaner soil and water, as well as regulation by health authorities to prevent immunocompromization and animal-borne infections.

For office workers, as the months passed, they began to question the way they had been living before the virus. They missed human contact, but not their commutes.

They wanted to see their colleagues, though were relieved to shed the artifice of the nine-to-five, the endless meetings, the pretending to be busy at all hours of the day, the sad desk lunches and minute-counting.

They worked when they needed to, and stopped when it was over. They spent more time with their families and made bad music and bad art.

See also:
World After Covid-19 Pandemic 3/20/20
Island Breath: Is Corona Virus a Bioweapon 2/20/20
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End of Neoliberal Era

SUBHEAD: However big we’re thinking about the effects of this pandemic, we can think bigger.

By Jeremy Lent on 3 April 2020 for Resilience -
(https://www.resilience.org/stories/2020-04-03/coronavirus-spells-the-end-of-the-neoliberal-era-whats-next/)


Image above: Detail of painting of the sack of Rome in 410 titled "Barbarians at the Gate" by Thomas Cole in his series of five paintings of Roman history entitled "The Course of Empire". From (https://medium.com/@robertos/the-fall-of-the-roman-empire-81eae500bdc0).

Think Bigger

Whatever you might be thinking about the long-term impacts of the coronavirus epidemic, you’re probably not thinking big enough.

Our lives have already been reshaped so dramatically in the past few weeks that it’s difficult to see beyond the next news cycle. We’re bracing for the recession we all know is here, wondering how long the lockdown will last, and praying that our loved ones will all make it through alive.

But, in the same way that Covid-19 is spreading at an exponential rate, we also need to think exponentially about its long-term impact on our culture and society. A year or two from now, the virus itself will likely have become a manageable part of our lives—effective treatments will have emerged; a vaccine will be available.

But the impact of coronavirus on our global civilization will only just be unfolding. The massive disruptions we’re already seeing in our lives are just the first heralds of a historic transformation in political and societal norms.

If Covid-19 were spreading across a stable and resilient world, its impact could be abrupt but contained. Leaders would consult together; economies disrupted temporarily; people would make do for a while with changed circumstances—and then, after the shock, look forward to getting back to normal.

That’s not, however, the world in which we live. Instead, this coronavirus is revealing the structural faults of a system that have been papered over for decades as they’ve been steadily worsening.

Gaping economic inequalities, rampant ecological destruction, and pervasive political corruption are all results of unbalanced systems relying on each other to remain precariously poised. Now, as one system destabilizes, expect others to tumble down in tandem in a cascade known by researchers as “synchronous failure.”

The first signs of this structural destabilization are just beginning to show. Our globalized economy relies on just-in-time inventory for hyper-efficient production.

As supply chains are disrupted through factory closures and border closings, shortages in household items, medications, and food will begin surfacing, leading to rounds of panic buying that will only exacerbate the situation.

The world economy is entering a downturn so steep it could exceed the severity of the Great Depression.

The international political system—already on the ropes with Trump’s “America First” xenophobia and the Brexit fiasco—is likely to unravel further, as the global influence of the United States tanks while Chinese power strengthens.

Meanwhile, the Global South, where Covid-19 is just beginning to make itself felt, may face disruption on a scale far greater than the more affluent Global North.

The Overton Window

During normal times, out of all the possible ways to organize society, there is only a limited range of ideas considered acceptable for mainstream political discussion—known as the Overton window. Covid-19 has blown the Overton window wide open.

In just a few weeks, we’ve seen political and economic ideas seriously discussed that had previously been dismissed as fanciful or utterly unacceptable: universal basic income, government intervention to house the homeless, and state surveillance on individual activity, to name just a few. But remember—this is just the beginning of a process that will expand exponentially in the ensuing months.

A crisis such as the coronavirus pandemic has a way of massively amplifying and accelerating changes that were already underway: shifts that might have taken decades can occur in weeks.

Like a crucible, it has the potential to melt down the structures that currently exist, and reshape them, perhaps unrecognizably. What might the new shape of society look like? What will be center stage in the Overton window by the time it begins narrowing again?
The Example of World War II

We’re entering uncharted territory, but to get a feeling for the scale of transformation we need to consider, it helps to look back to the last time the world underwent an equivalent spasm of change: the Second World War.

The pre-war world was dominated by European colonial powers struggling to maintain their empires. Liberal democracy was on the wane, while fascism and communism were ascendant, battling each other for supremacy.

The demise of the League of Nations seemed to have proven the impossibility of multinational global cooperation. Prior to Pearl Harbor, the United States maintained an isolationist policy, and in the early years of the war, many people believed it was just a matter of time before Hitler and the Axis powers invaded Britain and took complete control of Europe.

Within a few years, the world was barely recognizable. As the British Empire crumbled, geopolitics was dominated by the Cold War which divided the world into two political blocs under the constant threat of nuclear Armageddon.

A social democratic Europe formed an economic union that no-one could previously have imagined possible. Meanwhile, the US and its allies established a system of globalized trade, with institutions such as the IMF and the World Bank setting terms for how the “developing world” could participate.

The stage was set for the “Great Acceleration”: far and away the greatest and most rapid increase of human activity in history across a vast number of dimensions, including global population, trade, travel, production, and consumption.

If the changes we’re about to undergo are on a similar scale to these, how might a future historian summarize the “pre-coronavirus” world that is about to disappear?

The Neoliberal Era

There’s a good chance they will call this the Neoliberal Era. Until the 1970s, the post-war world was characterized in the West by an uneasy balance between government and private enterprise. However, following the “oil shock” and stagflation of that period—which at the time represented the world’s biggest post-war disruption—a new ideology of free-market neoliberalism took center stage in the Overton window (the phrase itself was named by a neoliberal proponent).

The value system of neoliberalism, which has since become entrenched in global mainstream discourse, holds that humans are individualistic, selfish, calculating materialists, and because of this, unrestrained free-market capitalism provides the best framework for every kind of human endeavor. Through their control of government, finance, business, and media, neoliberal adherents have succeeded in transforming the world into a globalized market-based system, loosening regulatory controls, weakening social safety nets, reducing taxes, and virtually demolishing the power of organized labor.

The triumph of neoliberalism has led to the greatest inequality in history, where (based on the most recent statistics) the world’s twenty-six richest people own as much wealth as half the entire world’s population. It has allowed the largest transnational corporations to establish a stranglehold over other forms of organization, with the result that, of the world’s hundred largest economies, sixty-nine are corporations.

The relentless pursuit of profit and economic growth above all else has propelled human civilization onto a terrifying trajectory. The uncontrolled climate crisis is the most obvious danger:

The world’s current policies have us on track for more than 3° increase by the end of this century, and climate scientists publish dire warnings that amplifying feedbacks could make things far worse than even these projections, and thus place at risk the very continuation of our civilization.

But even if the climate crisis were somehow brought under control, a continuation of untrammeled economic growth in future decades will bring us face-to-face with a slew of further existential threats. Currently, our civilization is running at 40% above its sustainable capacity. We’re rapidly depleting the earth’s forests, animals, insects, fish, freshwater, even the topsoil we require to grow our crops. We’ve already transgressed three of the nine planetary boundaries that define humanity’s safe operating space, and yet global GDP is expected to more than double by mid-century, with potentially irreversible and devastating consequences.

In 2017 over fifteen thousand scientists from 184 countries issued an ominous warning to humanity that time is running out: “Soon it will be too late,” they wrote, “to shift course away from our failing trajectory.”

They are echoed by the government-approved declaration of the UN-sponsored IPCC, that we need “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society” to avoid disaster.

In the clamor for economic growth, however, these warnings have so far gone unheeded. Will the impact of coronavirus change anything?

Fortress Earth

There’s a serious risk that, rather than shifting course from our failing trajectory, the post-Covid-19 world will be one where the same forces currently driving our race to the precipice further entrench their power and floor the accelerator directly toward global catastrophe.

China has relaxed its environmental laws to boost production as it tries to recover from its initial coronavirus outbreak, and the US (anachronistically named) Environmental Protection Agency took immediate advantage of the crisis to suspend enforcement of its laws, allowing companies to pollute as much as they want as long as they can show some relation to the pandemic.

On a greater scale, power-hungry leaders around the world are taking immediate advantage of the crisis to clamp down on individual liberties and move their countries swiftly toward authoritarianism.

Hungary’s strongman leader, Viktor Orban, officially killed off democracy in his country on Monday, passing a bill that allows him to rule by decree, with five-year prison sentences for those he determines are spreading “false” information.

Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu shut down his country’s courts in time to avoid his own trial for corruption. In the United States, the Department of Justice has already filed a request to allow the suspension of courtroom proceedings in emergencies, and there are many who fear that Trump will take advantage of the turmoil to install martial law and try to compromise November’s election.

Even in those countries that avoid an authoritarian takeover, the increase in high-tech surveillance taking place around the world is rapidly undermining previously sacrosanct privacy rights. Israel has passed an emergency decree to follow the lead of China, Taiwan, and South Korea in using smartphone location readings to trace contacts of individuals who tested positive for coronavirus.

European mobile operators are sharing user data (so far anonymized) with government agencies. As Yuval Harari has pointed out, in the post-Covid world, these short-term emergency measures may “become a fixture of life.”

If these, and other emerging trends, continue unchecked, we could head rapidly to a grim scenario of what might be called “Fortress Earth,” with entrenched power blocs eliminating many of the freedoms and rights that have formed the bedrock of the post-war world.

We could be seeing all-powerful states overseeing economies dominated even more thoroughly by the few corporate giants (think Amazon, Facebook) that can monetize the crisis for further shareholder gain.

The chasm between the haves and have-nots may become even more egregious, especially if treatments for the virus become available but are priced out of reach for some people.

Countries in the Global South, already facing the prospect of disaster from climate breakdown, may face collapse if coronavirus rampages through their populations while a global depression starves them of funds to maintain even minimal infrastructures.

Borders may become militarized zones, shutting off the free flow of passage. Mistrust and fear, which has already shown its ugly face in panicked evictions of doctors in India and record gun-buying in the US, could become endemic.

Society Transformed

But it doesn’t have to turn out that way. Back in the early days of World War II, things looked even darker, but underlying dynamics emerged that fundamentally altered the trajectory of history. Frequently, it was the very bleakness of the disasters that catalyzed positive forces to emerge in reaction and predominate.

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor—the day “which will live in infamy”—was the moment when the power balance of World War II shifted.

The collective anguish in response to the global war’s devastation led to the founding of the United Nations. The grotesque atrocity of Hitler’s holocaust led to the international recognition of the crime of genocide, and the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Could it be that the crucible of coronavirus will lead to a meltdown of neoliberal norms that ultimately reshapes the dominant structures of our global civilization? Could a mass collective reaction to the excesses of authoritarian overreach lead to a renaissance of humanitarian values? We’re already seeing signs of this.

While the Overton window is allowing surveillance and authoritarian practices to enter from one side, it’s also opening up to new political realities and possibilities on the other side. Let’s take a look at some of these.

A fairer society. The specter of massive layoffs and unemployment has already led to levels of state intervention to protect citizens and businesses that were previously unthinkable. Denmark plans to pay 75% of the salaries of employees in private companies hit by the effects of the epidemic, to keep them and their businesses solvent.

The UK has announced a similar plan to cover 80% of salaries. California is leasing hotels to shelter homeless people who would otherwise remain on the streets, and has authorized local governments to halt evictions for renters and homeowners. New York state is releasing low-risk prisoners from its jails. Spain is nationalizing its private hospitals.

The Green New Deal, which was already endorsed by the leading Democratic presidential candidates, is now being discussed as the mainstay of a program of economic recovery. The idea of universal basic income for every American, boldly raised by long-shot Democratic candidate Andrew Yang, has now become a talking point even for Republican politicians.

Ecological stabilization. Coronavirus has already been more effective in slowing down climate breakdown and ecological collapse than all the world’s policy initiatives combined. In February, Chinese CO2 emissions were down by over 25%.

One scientist calculated that twenty times as many Chinese lives have been saved by reduced air pollution than lost directly to coronavirus. Over the next year, we’re likely to see a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions greater than even the most optimistic modelers’ forecasts, as a result of the decline in economic activity.

As French philosopher Bruno Latour tweeted: “Next time, when ecologists are ridiculed because ‘the economy cannot be slowed down’, they should remember that it can grind to a halt in a matter of weeks worldwide when it is urgent enough.”

Of course, nobody would propose that economic activity should be disrupted in this catastrophic way in response to the climate crisis.

However, the emergency response initiated so rapidly by governments across the world has shown what is truly possible when people face what they recognize as a crisis. As a result of climate activism, 1,500 municipalities worldwide, representing over 10% of the global population, have officially declared a climate emergency.

The Covid-19 response can now be held out as an icon of what is really possible when people’s lives are at stake. In the case of the climate, the stakes are even greater—the future survival of our civilization. We now know the world can respond as needed, once political will is engaged and societies enter emergency mode

The rise of “glocalization.” One of the defining characteristics of the Neoliberal Era has been a corrosive globalization based on free market norms. Transnational corporations have dictated terms to countries in choosing where to locate their operations, leading nations to compete against each other to reduce worker protections in a “race to the bottom.”

The use of cheap fossil fuels has caused wasteful misuse of resources as products are flown around the world to meet consumer demand stoked by manipulative advertising.

This globalization of markets has been a major cause of the Neoliberal Era’s massive increase in consumption that threatens civilization’s future. Meanwhile, masses of people disaffected by rising inequity have been persuaded by right-wing populists to turn their frustration toward outgroups such as immigrants or ethnic minorities.

The effects of Covid-19 could lead to an inversion of these neoliberal norms. As supply lines break down, communities will look to local and regional producers for their daily needs. When a consumer appliance breaks, people will try to get it repaired rather than buy a new one. Workers, newly unemployed, may turn increasingly to local jobs in smaller companies that serve their community directly.

At the same time, people will increasingly get used to connecting with others through video meetings over the internet, where someone on the other side of the world feels as close as someone across town.

This could be a defining characteristic of the new era. Even while production goes local, we may see a dramatic increase in the globalization of new ideas and ways of thinking—a phenomenon known as “glocalization.”

Already, scientists are collaborating around the world in an unprecedented collective effort to find a vaccine; and a globally crowdsourced library is offering a “Coronavirus Tech Handbook” to collect and distribute the best ideas for responding to the pandemic.

Compassionate community. Rebecca Solnit’s 2009 book, A Paradise Built in Hell, documents how, contrary to popular belief, disasters frequently bring out the best in people, as they reach out and help those in need around them. In the wake of Covid-19, the whole world is reeling from a disaster that affects us all.

The compassionate response Solnit observed in disaster zones has now spread across the planet with a speed matching the virus itself. Mutual aid groups are forming in communities everywhere to help those in need.

The website Karunavirus (Karuna is a Sanskrit word for compassion) documents a myriad of everyday acts of heroism, such as the thirty thousand Canadians who have started “caremongering,” and the mom-and-pop restaurants in Detroit forced to close and now cooking meals for the homeless.

In the face of disaster, many people are rediscovering that they are far stronger as a community than as isolated individuals. The phrase “social distancing” is helpfully being recast as “physical distancing” since Covid-19 is bringing people closer together in solidarity than ever before.

Revolution in Values

This rediscovery of the value of community has the potential to be the most important factor of all in shaping the trajectory of the next era. New ideas and political possibilities are critically important, but ultimately an era is defined by its underlying values, on which everything else is built.

The Neoliberal Era was constructed on a myth of the selfish individual as the foundational for values. As Margaret Thatcher famously declared, “There’s no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families.” This belief in the selfish individual has not just been destructive of community—it’s plain wrong.

In fact, from an evolutionary perspective, a defining characteristic of humanity is our set of prosocial impulses—fairness, altruism, and compassion—that cause us to identify with something larger than our own individual needs. The compassionate responses that have arisen in the wake of the pandemic are heartwarming but not surprising—they are the expected, natural human response to others in need.

Once the crucible of coronavirus begins to cool, and a new sociopolitical order emerges, the larger emergency of climate breakdown and ecological collapse will still be looming over us.

The Neoliberal Era has set civilization’s course directly toward a precipice. If we are truly to “shift course away from our failing trajectory,” the new era must be defined, at its deepest level, not merely by the political or economic choices being made, but by a revolution in values.

It must be an era where the core human values of fairness, mutual aid, and compassion are paramount—extending beyond the local neighborhood to state and national government, to the global community of humans, and ultimately to the community of all life.

If we can change the basis of our global civilization from one that is wealth-affirming to one that is life-affirming, then we have a chance to create a flourishing future for humanity and the living Earth.

To this extent, the Covid-19 disaster represents an opportunity for the human race—one in which each one of us has a meaningful part to play. We are all inside the crucible right now, and the choices we make over the weeks and months to come will, collectively, determine the shape and defining characteristics of the next era.

However big we’re thinking about the future effects of this pandemic, we can think bigger. As has been said in other settings, but never more to the point: “A crisis is a terrible thing to waste.”

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