Why are these two terms in the same headline? Because a sustainable society is an inherently resilient society with a broad-based economy, making it much better equipped to face a pandemic threat than a globalised, grow-forever consumer society. Sustainable societies develop a wide technological base. They embrace biophysical and well-being metrics to illuminate both a bigger picture and a very detailed view of the physical inner workings of a society, compared to the commercial economy’s one-metric-to-rule-them-all, GDP.
Would a sustainable, resilient society be immune to the effects of a pandemic? Absolutely not, but it would be better equipped to handle them just as it would be better prepared to navigate the even larger challenges of climate change, the transition to renewable energy and environmental decline.
To this point, humanity’s response to global warming has been a muddled, ineffective patchwork of slogans ranging from the oxymoronic “clean growth” to “business-as-usual, the market will solve it.” And this, 30 years after the official and stark warnings from scientists began in earnest which are now reaching eardrum piercing levels. But here we are, scarcely eight weeks into a pandemic crisis, and politicians all over the world of every stripe are now laser-focused on minimising the human toll of COVID-19 regardless of where the economic chips may fall.
The coronavirus pandemic represents a clear and imminent threat. Its impact is an exponentially growing number of sick and dead with the sobering promise of truly epic human suffering. If there are any pandemic deniers left, their voices have faded dramatically.
Our response to the coronavirus has quickly evolved from a monetary response into one based solidly on the real economy. Governments, with their disconnected perspectives shaped by finance and media corporations, have been forced to climb down and get their hands dirty in the mechanics of the medical, energy and food sectors. Coronavirus policy decisions have not been determined by the amount of dollars we will spend but rather by the number of masks, gloves and ventilators which have to be applied to a given patient load in a given region.
Market Based Solutions
In the realms of climate change, environmental health and resource depletion, the argument has often been heard that the commercial market will automatically adjust to our changing planet and repair it, just as government budgets have been forecasted to automatically balance themselves. Market forces, it was thought, would not only deal with problems, but continue to generate ever higher levels of consumption. Clearly, despite the passage of numerous decades, market forces have not delivered the necessary results or even progress towards this goal.
Non-performance has been tolerated to this point because these issues have not been deemed by the public and political leadership to be immediate threats. It took a pandemic to show us what we really felt was an immediate threat.
In a few short weeks, virtually every government on the planet, no matter their political orientation, has gone onto a de facto wartime footing and taken control over the movement of people and the production of goods.