Not Returning to Normal

A newsroom article from the end of last month posed an interesting challenge – let’s not return to normal.

It’s a reminder that with crisis comes the opportunity for positive change. Lockdown has had some benefits for the environment.

It’s also a reminder that before the current crisis, we were dealing (or not dealing) with an existing and ongoing crisis, around climate change and sustainability more broadly.  We can’t lose sight of that.

Not returning to normal should be our goal. And while sitting here in lockdown, there’s plenty of time to think about what that might look like, and how it can happen.

However, that thinking must be BIG.

Until early March 2020 New Zealand’s emissions were tracking at near record levels. The Sustainable Business Network estimates that the reduction in emissions resulting from the Covid-19 lockdown is on par with the permanent reduction needed to meet New Zealand’s international climate change commitment.

It’s taken something as momentous as locking down the country to nudge us off our failing emissions trajectory and towards our goal. That’s the magnitude of change needed.

Of course we’ll get through the current crisis, and no one wants to endure ongoing lockdown as the solution to climate change and environmental catastrophe. So, as AUT University Lecturer Dr David asks “As we recover from the the Covid-19 crisis, how do we make sure that we grow back better?”

Hall suggests that sustainable finance must play a key role. “Either we stimulate our national economy by trying to return to how we were, exposed to various systemic crises. Or we recover in ways that meet the challenges of the 21st century.” The government is feeding money into the economy to reduce some of the imminent economic harm. Some of that stimulus should be made available for green infrastructure projects which deliver climate adaptation, community resilience and biodiversity benefits.

Hard not to agree with? But more fundamental change, on a much larger scale is needed.

International tourism might not be dead, but it’s in a coma for long while. And in the hospital ward next to the NZ tourism sector lie the economies of our major export markets. I don’t know their prognoses, but they’re looking pretty crook. What will global economic sickness mean for our export industries and businesses? They’re starting to cough and feeling a tad feverish too.

So, with the economy’s traditional bread-winners somewhere between critical and pre-symptomatic, what next? What new sustainable and climate-friendly enterprises can be created to fill that void, provide quality employment, happy and healthy communities, and support an equitable transition to a low-emissions economy?

I don’t have the answers, but a few more weeks of lockdown to think, as others are.

Because now is the time for some big thinking, to create a new normal.

A better normal.

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