Discover more from ESG on a Sunday
Week 32: Covid-19 is bad, but climate change is worse
We are at "point break" with scenarios from a near future. Is Covid-19 saving the climate? What is business doing about it? And is Elon Musk still on Planet Earth?
Thanks for tuning in again. This time around I want to focus on Covid-19 and share with you some perspectives and a few sci-fi-like scenarios. And also link it back to climate change.
A point break reality
In many ways, we are at a “point break” here on Planet Earth.
The speed and complexity of changes we are experiencing right now are so intense – and in some cases even brutal – that we barely manage to comprehend or grasp the depth of them.
The world has never felt quite this much like a dystopian science-fiction movie with an overheated, overwritten plot.
So let’s imagine a not too distant future. What will happen? Where are we heading?
Scenarios from a near future
I revisited a piece in Boston Globe written back in March. The paper asked a number of futurists and sci-fi writers to look 6-10 months ahead to how the coronavirus could reshape everyday life. Some of their predictions are strikingly eerie.
Here’s a selection of my favourite bits from the article.
First, there’s Thornton May, founder of Digital Value Institute, a think tank of tech leaders:
In September 2020, the world will not have returned to a pre-virus status quo. This thing will change every part of society and our economy.
We will come to appreciate the truly critical bits of infrastructure that modern life depends on — the food supply chain, the medical supply chain, and the logistical complexity of supplying stuff.
And here’s Tobias Buckell, a science-fiction author and futurist:
There will probably be a rise in nationalist parties agitating and using the fact that the virus originated from an external source to their borders as a lever to engage in more racism.
The stunning unemployment rates, business failures, and disruption will have led to government intervention on a scale that neoliberalism hasn’t seen since the 1930s.
We are more germaphobic, but we really value our third spaces more, like coffee shops and places to meet away from home, because many are unemployed or work from home and understand after getting cooped up so long how great it is to get out.
And Seaby Brown, a science-fiction author and entrepreneur:
Families spend more time together at home since the second, and more deadly, wave of COVID-19 struck in October, spreading through young people returning from summer and back to school, falsely lulled into believing it was safe to do so by the waning numbers of new infections during the summer. Now it is the young people who are getting hit the hardest, since the virus mutated to be more aggressive in those young people who had viewed the virus as the “Boomer Remover” and ignored the social distancing directives. Like the 1918 flu, the second wave is the really deadly one.
With many parents out of work due to layoffs, more families are keeping their children at home and homeschooling in numbers higher than ever. School districts are looking to contract, with new homeschooling and distance schooling companies offering better ebook texts and Hollywood production style educational video series. Teachers are retooling to work as online tutors.
And finally, here’s Annalee Newitz, science-fiction and nonfiction author, and podcaster:
I have a couple of scenarios I've been batting around in my head, which both feel equally plausible at this point.
Scenario One: As more people hunker down at home, more of our most vital and personal activities will have to go online. Lots of people are learning how to have serious meetings remotely, and how to work as teams in group chat.
The online world is going to become a fully robust public space, and we won’t want to see garbage and detritus everywhere. We will finally start to see social media companies taking responsibility for what’s on their platforms — information will need to be accurate, or people will die.
We might see an election in the US where people vote for candidates who promise a government focused on social assistance, and have science-based approaches toward catastrophes.
Scenario Two: The pandemic rips through the population, aided in part by contradictory messages from state and federal governments, as well as misinformation online. As social groups and families are torn apart by disease and unemployment, people look increasingly to social media for radical solutions: violent uprisings, internment camps for immigrants and other "suspicious" groups, and off-the-grid cults that promise sanctuary from death.
My educated guess is that we'll see a little of both things, depending on where people live, especially because the pandemic is going to hit local communities unevenly.
In Nature, they asked a number of scientists about their predictions. It’s a very sobering read. Here’s one scenario from that piece:
The world has been in pandemic mode for a year and a half. The virus continues to spread at a slow burn; intermittent lockdowns are the new normal. An approved vaccine offers six months of protection, but international deal-making has slowed its distribution. An estimated 250 million people have been infected worldwide, and 1.75 million are dead.
Is Covid-19 saving the climate?
It’s interesting to note that in all of the above scenarios, climate change has not been mentioned once. If we add climate change to the equation, things will get, let’s just say a lot more complex.
This leads us to the idea circulating certain places that Covid-19 is somehow saving the climate. It’s a very dangerous idea, and if we look at the numbers – as they do in this academic article – we see that it’s simply not true.
The scientists behind the study estimate that the direct effect of the pandemic will be negligible, with a cooling of around 0.01 ± 0.005 °C by 2030.
In contrast, with an economic recovery tilted towards green stimulus and reductions in fossil fuel investments, it is possible to avoid future warming of 0.3 °C by 2050.
On the same note, you should watch this video with Bill Gates, entitled Climate Change Is a Bigger Disaster Than Coronavirus. It’s sending a very clear message. A message that is so crucial for us.
What is business doing about it?
Yes, that’s also an important question. Are we seeing the changes we need from businesses in order to ensure a transition to a sustainable economy?
Yes, we are, but only to some degree. The big question is how realistic some of the commitments issued by fossil fuel companies are. Can a system failure be solved by symbolic actions?
I urge you to read this and let me know what you think.
A letter to Elon Musk
We finish this ESG newsletter with a letter. And not just any letter.
In a letter to Elon Musk, the Aborigen Forum has urged him not to buy nickel, copper and other products from Nornickel until the company conducts a full and independent assessment of the environmental damage caused by its production.
It is a sad letter, but let’s hope that this man from outer space, Mr Elon Musk, still has some ties to Planet Earth.
You can read the letter here.
That’s it for now. I wish you a Happy Sunday.