Will our response to Covid-19 in the long term mark a shift away from globalisation to a more localised lifestyle? And is that for the best?
As the world attempts to wrap its head around the long-term impacts of Covid-19, we’re seeing more and more speculation about what this pandemic will do to globalisation.
Over the past decade or so, countries have been playing a balancing game between protectionist policies and continued participation in global happenings. The migrant crisis, ongoing trade wars and Brexit contrast with global sporting and cultural events, worldwide tourism and demonstrations of solidarity – seen in the climate strikes of the autumn or the support for Brazil and Australia during the wildfires.
Our economy relies on growth, on seeing GDP increase.
And the benefits of globalisation have been many and varied. It’s helped lift many people out of poverty and raised living standards. It allows greater connectivity so we can share knowledge, explore other cultures and create collaboratively. It’s made the world a smaller place, increasing our sense of a shared humanity and empathy.
But for too long, it’s been growth powered by fossil fuels. Growth because people continue buying material goods that are cheaper to replace than repair. And growth from efficiencies of scale and outsourcing elements of the supply chain that kill off local business.
Climate activists, who have been calling for dramatic changes in our lifestyles to reduce carbon emissions, are asking if this is a turning point for the climate.
So many of the lifestyle changes they’ve wanted are now being imposed on us.
Air travel has all but stopped as we telecommute, and we no longer need our cars or public transportation as we work from home. So air quality has improved.
Polluting factories have shut their doors and exports are down. So carbon emissions are lower.
Global supply chains are being disrupted, so we’re turning to local products and services instead.
And as we all become more health conscious, we’re remembering the benefits of a plant-based diet.
And while there are immediate benefits to the environment and wildlife, this sharp change impacting so many at once comes at a steep cost – not just in terms of human lives but to livelihoods across the world.
As Rachel Cunliffe writes in City A.M.:
‘The economic shock could have long-term implications far more severe than the health crisis itself. Shortages will drive up prices, closures will cost jobs, reduced spending could potentially lead to recession. Recovery will be tough.’
In the immediate crisis, we must do what we can to ensure the health and safety of our people.
But as we recover, I – for one – am hoping for a future that retains the benefits and openness of globalisation but is also more intentional about how it is sustained. That gives equal value to animals and planet as it does to humans.
I agree with Will Hutton, who wrote in The Guardian:
‘Now, one form of unregulated, free-market globalisation with its propensity for crises and pandemics is certainly dying. But another form that recognises interdependence and the primacy of evidence-based collective action is being born.
There will be more pandemics that will force governments to invest in public health institutions and respect the science they represent – with parallel moves on climate change, the oceans, finance and cybersecurity.
Because we can’t do without globalisation, the imperative will be to find ways of managing and governing it.’