From reflection to sustainable action
At AMS, we believe that the COVID-19 pandemic is forcing a rethink on the role of business in society, including its negative impacts and its positive potential. We will continue to work with our partners to ensure that the crisis also turns into an opportunity for sustainable transformation – of governments, business, academia and civil society.
Meanwhile, in this briefing, we have curated and highlighted 10 recent articles on COVID-19 and sustainable transformation. These articles stem from authoritative sources, both with regard to the outlets and the authors. The articles highlight various aspects of the coronavirus crisis and provide analyses of its origins and speculation of its (potential) impacts. They represent thought leadership and offer perspectives that evoke deep reflection and prompt urgent action at the same time – must-reads in uncertain times in order to get some direction, guidance, and inspiration for sustainable transformation.
Economist Mariana Mazzucato argues that we should use this crisis as a way to understand how to do capitalism differently. This requires a rethink of what governments are for: rather than simply fixing market failures when they arise, they should move toward actively shaping and creating markets that deliver sustainable and inclusive growth. Governments must seize the moment to make their economies more resilient to crisis, implement decarbonization policies, and bring a stakeholder approach to capitalism.
As people expand into wilderness areas, bringing urbanization and agriculture, they encroach on species like bats that originally had free rein and plenty of space to roam. Proximity gives diseases a better shot at making a cross-species jump. An essence of the coronavirus crisis is that we should realize that our relationship to nature is to blame for it – and for the spread of other zoonotic viruses, too. Ongoing biodiversity loss and climate change may exacerbate problems in the future.
Scientists have fingered bats and pangolins as potential sources of the virus. However, wild animals are not especially infested with deadly pathogens, poised to infect humans. In fact, most of these microbes live harmlessly in these animals’ bodies. The problem is the way that cutting down forests and expanding towns, cities, and industrial activities creates pathways for animal microbes to adapt to the human body. The real blame lies with human assaults on the environment–the animal source is us.
Our generation’s greatest ethical blindspot is that markets are neither natural nor neutral. Capitalism needs ownership models that bind together the long-term interests of owners and their stakeholders, including customers, suppliers, employees and wider society. Interestingly, such models already exist. Worldwide, cooperatives employ more people than all multinationals combined. Employee-owned organizations are often held up as exemplars of a more enlightened capitalism.
A new discipline, planetary health, is emerging that focuses on the increasingly visible connections between the wellbeing of humans, other living things and entire ecosystems. It tells us that, as habitat and biodiversity loss increase globally, the coronavirus outbreak may be just the beginning. Behavior change in both rich and poor countries is what is needed to prevent mass pandemics. Getting the message about pathogens and disease to hunters, loggers, market traders and consumers is key.
Umair Haque writes that we are living on a globe that invests just a quarter of what it produces in social systems – and that is not a sustainable one. Due to the coronavirus crisis, global investment is beginning to tick upwards, after decades of stagnation. It isn’t just the start of a good trend — it is a necessary one, if we’re to build a livable world, versus the dystopia we’re currently trapped in. He identifies five ways in which the coronavirus is forcing us to rebalance the economy in order to increase quality of life for each and everyone of us on the planet.
GreenBiz’s Joel Makower contend that while we’re not out of the woods on the pandemic yet, that doesn’t mean we cannot be pondering the world that follows. In fact, the coronavirus crisis is also a moment of reinvention, or soon will be, when we are able to see our way through the worst of this moment. Everything seems to be up for grabs, including the kind of ‘normal’ we aim to individually and collectively create. With all disruptions come opportunities for innovation and renewal. Can we think and act anew for ourselves and our future?
Humankind is now facing a global crisis – perhaps the biggest crisis of our generation. The decisions people and governments will take in the next few weeks will probably shape the world for years to come: not just our healthcare systems but also our economy, politics and culture.The world’s most popular historian reflects on the coronavirus crisis by saying that we face two important choices: (1) choosing between totalitarian surveillance and citizen empowerment and (2) choosing between nationalist isolation and global solidarity.
According to Thomas L. Friedman, there is a world B.C. — Before Corona — and a world A.C. — After Corona. What the world after the coronavirus crisis will look like, is yet unclear. However, he contends, we should attend to the power of exponentials (and see their upside), the dominant political culture of developed economies, and to distribute cash among entrepreneurs and citizens. Tightening our culture and loosening our purses is the device to combat the crisis and emerge from it well.
We can no longer prevent the COVID-19 crisis, but we can respond to this pandemic by acting to prevent future crises, notably the climate crisis, from overwhelming us. There will be no vaccine for a global disruption triggered by climate change, inequality or ecosystem degradation. It’s time to pay attention. We have tinder dry fuel across the whole global system. If we don’t act to reduce it, a fire like this one could one day sweep away all before it.
While these articles may offer much-needed clarifications and perspectives of the coronavirus crisis, it should be noted that they are at the same time snapshots of a world amidst one of the worst crises in modern history. As the crisis progresses, new uncertainties and dilemmas arise–and as our insights advance in how to deal with this crisis and how to weave our experiences with it into a view of the future, new opportunities for sustainable transformation may emerge. This should invite anyone to explore these opportunities from a mindset of continuous learning. At AMS, we would be more than happy if you’d share your ideas and experiences with us. In the end, learning is what sustainable transformation thrives on.
Do you want to contact Lars Moratis? Or do you have a question? Let him know via Lars.Moratis@ams.ac.be.