Moving to a Green Economy: This crisis can prepare us for the next

As the world shifts from the adrenalized shock of shutdown to a more measured management of this terrible respiratory threat, the economic forecast is bleak. In some places, especially in Africa and Latin America, the forecast is not yet clear, but upheaval is certain. COVID-19 has imploded financial markets and unemployment has sky-rocketed. What could a post-virus world look like?

Certainly there are opportunities that the current crisis has made clear, teleworking, distance learning, virtual care being among them. Given the dramatic sea change of this crisis, we have a chance now to step back, learn, and create a new economy that works for everyone.

Relationships between the state and business will need to deepen, as the reliance of entrepreneurs and enterprises on government support during a market shock has been made clear. Can we streamline to ensure we care for the most vulnerable? The virus has also highlighted the inequity among heath systems around the world, adding increased vulnerability to those who were already in such a state. We need structures and regulations to ensure that all people are able to provide for their families and access basic health care. Can we ensure well-being of our neighbours with something like a universal basic income?

We have an opportunity to shape private values to better match what the public values. We need a society, and thus an economy, that values compassion and sustainability, alongside efficiency and dynamism. How companies treated their employees, suppliers, and customers will be remembered, after this is all over. We have the opportunity now to rebuild an economy that is equitable, where life saving personal support workers are valued, just as driven corporate leaders are.

In recent decades, we have moved from a market economy to a market society. To be valued, an asset or activity has to be noted in a ledger. Why is Amazon one of the world’s most valuable companies, yet Amazon the rainforest, the world’s lungs, is not valued as such? As Mark Carney notes in The Economist, “The price of everything is becoming the value of everything.” 

Farmers come into sharper focus during a crisis. Will supply chains be destroyed, or merely disrupted? Managing milk production, for example, is a regulated system, and shifting away from hospitality to retail causes some spilled milk. Sourcing essential supplies and technology in an emergency makes us second guess our collective reliance on our globalized world. Companies respond to local needs in their communities. We are already building local resilience—there are calls for strategic investments into the Canadian agri-food sector. We have an opportunity to build a healthy food system that works for all.  

The looming climate crisis involves the entire world, just as COVID-19 does. We will not be able to self-isolate for this one. Science tells us it is coming, and we must act in solidarity and with prudence. With global pressure to shift away from fossil fuels, what a great time to invest in environmental clean-up and renewable energy.

People’s economic narratives are changing. Now is a time for citizens to look at their bank accounts and finances: what works for them? What is good for our planet? What do we want to build for the next generation? We are at a crossroads: the current crisis has opened an opportunity for us we to move towards a greener economy. It will help us next time.

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