The global COVID-19/Coronavirus pandemic has struck the world and has heavily impacted every human being on our planet. Lots of people are suffering, many have lost loved ones and a majority faces or will face economic hardship. While each individual has been impacted differently, the global impact of the pandemic could be divided into three aspects.
First and utmost, the pandemic has impacted the health of many who are infected by the virus, while it brought fear and loss of loved ones into the lives of all others. There is no part of the world, no country and no individual that can escape the danger of the virus and its disastrous impact on physical and mental health. Moreover, in order to provide medical care and public safety, COVID-19 has demanded an almost inhumane effort of medical and other essential personnel all around the world, while being exposed to the virus 24 hours a day. The pandemic has overloaded many health care systems, of which some were already in bad shape before the crisis, exposing how a high number of people worldwide lack basic health care.
However, whilst the virus is still spreading, the impact on our economy is also becoming more clear everyday. As a result of the lockdown measures in many countries – from the North to the South and from the West to the East -, the productivity of countries, companies and individuals have almost entirely come to a stop, putting our globalised economy in a ‘hibernation’ mode that has never been seen before. The direct consequence is the major job loss of millions of people, a big part of them living in countries where social security is limited or simply not present, bringing even more suffering into their lives. But, in the long-term, experts have already claimed that the temporary stop of almost all economies around the world will bring about a major global recession, one that will most-likely impact individual people even more than the 2008 financial crisis.
Yet, there are also those who have claimed that there is a positive impact of the global pandemic. The global stop of economic productivity and leisure activities, including the drastic decrease of our excessive plane usage, fuel-consuming commuting habits and massive factory production has caused a major drop in CO2 in the air we breathe and allowed nature to flourish in many ways. If there is one thing that the COVID-19 crisis has shown us so far, it is that our modern way of life was indeed causing extreme negative ramifications to our ecosystems, and that drastic measures can massively decrease our harmful impact in a relatively short amount of time.
Thus, it has become clear that the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted our health, our economy and the environment we live in, and it is clear that only the last aspect may be considered as the one and only positive consequence. However, the impacts defined above also demonstrate how the COVID-19 crisis brings forward three unique and future-changing opportunities. Making use of these opportunities would fulfill different and important global needs, and could consequently change the world’s current status-quo. I strongly believe that if we make use of these opportunities, we can allow human kind and planet earth to substantially thrive once we have overcome this crisis. In the remainder of this article, I have made an humble attempt to elaborate these three opportunities and how they could fullfill highly important global needs.
I. The opportunity to change our current economic system
All throughout human history, but especially since the last century, our economies have been built around the idea of growth: the growth of corporate profit, the growth of our national and global GDP, the growth of product revenue and growth of human capital and therewith the economic value of each individual. For years, we have believed in an economical system where people and countries can only thrive when they increase all forms of growth, and where people would need to consume to encourage economic progress.
This idea has been so embedded in our economic way of thinking that major changes or thoughts for other (less capitalistic) systems have been rejected before we could even consider its support and feasibility, even though our current system has shown an increasing number of major flaws. After all, in the last decades, we have seen how it has damaged our planet behind imagination and, rather than improved, has negatively impacted the lives of billions. Our system has caused major inequality rates, which are still drastically increasing, and it has turned into a global structure in which the rich benefit from the growing numbers of people living in poverty.
COVID-19 is demonstrating very clearly how unequal our world really is. Even though the pandemic hits everyone and everything, it affects the most poor and vulnerable the hardest. While (a part of) the wealthy can afford social distancing, can pay for high-quality healthcare and have a safe home to stay and often even work from, this is completely unrealistic for people in South African slums or for the refugees in Greek camps, just to mention two examples. They are sharing one toilet with 50 people and/or live with many people in small apartments or rooms, and thus cannot distance themselves from others or improve their hygienic habits, let alone make use of proper health care, either because it is private or because it’s simply not there.
Yet, at the same time, even within the borders of the more affluent parts of the world, inequalities come forward more clearly than ever, as even a growing number of people in Spain are suffering from hunger and lack of sufficient care, making their survival fully dependent on charities and churches. It shows how the contrast with the affluent people is becoming even bigger due to the COVID-19 crisis, and also explains the growing resistance towards the rich celebrities ‘supporting’ the world from their million dollar villas, with Madonna’s recent video as the pinnacle, where she states that COVID-19 “doesn’t care about how rich you are”- filmed from her bathtub full of rose petals.
All this is exactly why the pandemic should be the straw that will break the camel’s back to change our economic approach. Now is the time to think about making our world more equal, now is the time to distribute wealth and resources more fairly among people and directly in line with that, now is the time to limit the affluence of the richest 1% of our world. It is time to take drastic action against tax avoidance, against human exploitation, against human rights violations and against all other forms of human suffering that resulted from our capitalistic and growth-aimed system. It is time to start using surplus money to create safe and healthy living environments for all people on earth, not just for those who can afford it. Sustainability should be our aim – not endless growth. Education should be the means, not consumption. And, the health of all human beings should be the priority – not the financial health of corporate business. Right now, more than ever, everyone can see how high the need is to improve the lives of many, and politics should make use of this momentum to finally take drastic economic action. California has given a foretaste with their plan to financial support illegal immigrants, and Spain has also taken an ambitious step to provide a basic income for its citizens.
II. The opportunity to realise universal and accessible health care
This topic relates to the global inequalities described in the previous section, but it has been put forward so evidently by the COVID-19 crisis that I have categorized it as a separate global need, to emphasise its importance. After all, from Northern America to Western Africa, and from Asia to Latin America, COVID-19 has shown the fragility of insufficient or absent health systems to provide proper care for all people. The pandemic has pointed out what was already clear before: people in countries without universal and guaranteed health care suffer more, and are now even more impacted by the virus. A lack of hospital beds, insufficient resources and lack of educated personnel is causing needless suffering and precious loss of human lives, which already becomes clear by just looking at the United States, a country where a major part of the people does not have health insurance and where COVID-19 is claiming more lives than any other place on earth.
Support for universal and open-accessible health care has always been halted, mostly because of the lobbying of corporate medical companies, which has prevented governments from taking adequate action to provide proper health care. However, the COVID-19 pandemic is showing the importance of adequate health care so crystal clear that now and after the crisis, governments should make use of the momentum to take action and start building new health care systems, providing a minimum level of health standards for all its people.
Furthermore, it is not just important to improve health care systems on a national level – this need also has to be addressed on a global scale. When countries lack the resources to make such changes, international collaboration must be increased to allow those who are most vulnerable, such as the people in Sudan or Brazil, to also benefit from universal and equal health care. We know it is possible – look at the systems put in place in Northern European countries – and now is the time we can also gather sufficient support for this political decision on a global level.
III. The opportunity to take drastic environmental action
The one and only positive consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic – the temporary reduction of CO2 and the successful recapture of nature over our earth – calls for drastic measures to prevent us from falling back into old habits as soon as we go back to the old normal. Because if we do fall back, we will continue to endanger ourselves and all other living beings on our earth, leading to even greater risks than the COVID-19 pandemic has brought forward. With our old living habits of excessive travelling, overconsumption and our inclination to use and therewith destroy natural resources, we cannot avoid climate change, food shortages, natural disasters and finally, at the end of the road, we will not be able to avoid a world where human life will never be able to thrive again. Without action, we will continue to create damaged generations before they are even born.
It is therefore, now that our influence on the current path of environmental destruction has become so obvious, that politics, but also individuals, need to make use of this momentum to call for drastic change in our behaviours and in our laws and policies. To survive, we need to get back within the boundaries of our planet – the boundaries that keep our planet habitable; the boundaries that we have crossed too many times already.
Hence, to fulfill the last need that the COVID-19 crisis has revealed, each one of us needs to finally realise we can still make the much needed environmental changes, on a global, national and even individual level. Now is the time that politics need to support the transition away from polluting transportation industries to more sustainable forms of transportation, instead of making billion euro injections into the airline industry (for example). Now is the time that companies need to realise the need of not just making profit, but also creating an enterprise that is regenerative by design, giving back to the living systems that everyone is part of, by for instance preventing excessive usage of our planet’s resources. And it is now that individuals need to realise that we can all live more humble; more modest, and that we don’t need to constantly consume and travel all the time. We can live happily without the newest products, and we can experience personal growth without visiting each single place on earth.
Choosing the right path
As I see it, to conclude this article, we have two options. We can just sit and wait till the crisis passes, and then go back to humanity’s old habits that have become increasingly destructive over time to our own kind and to the planet we inhabit, generating more inequality, causing more human suffering and creating even more environmental damage than before. Or, option two, we can choose a different path. A path of sustainability, equality, universality and environmental stability, a path in which we have learned from the crisis we are currently in. I truly believe that when we make use of the above described opportunities, we can all thrive in the post-Corona era, even more than before. It is up to all of us: governments and institutions, but also individuals. If you are currently in the position to do so, there is no better time to start than now.