A soft reset for humankind

It’s been a few years since the global pandemic. Everything is back to normal now. Well… “back” is not the right word. It is a new normal. I’m still biking to work like I always did, but I hardly have any space left with so many cyclists in the road. Even with the ever-expanding cycling network. A lot of people started biking during the physical distancing period and they realized how good it was.

On my way to work, I drop my kids at our local urban farm, each neighbourhood now has a few of them. Many of their friends are already there and many adults too. Most people in the neighbourhood spend at least a few hours/week at the farm. This is very doable since universal basic income was implemented and we don’t have to worry about putting long hours at work. The extended closure of workplaces and schools forced the implementation. 

At first, people were afraid that many would just cash the money and do nothing. But even during the pandemic, it didn’t take us too long to realize how boring it is to stay home and not to work. We were all craving to do something and be active. And now we are more productive than ever since nobody needs to accept a precarious or demeaning job. We all do something meaningful and this always adds great value to our community.

The outbreak seems so distant now, but we know something like that might happen again. Especially with the environmental crisis looming over our heads. Even though there is a lot of ground to cover, we will probably reach all our environmental targets before 2030. Anyway, if another virus gets loose we know we are much more prepared for it this time!

What is a reset?

In computing language, a reset basically means that all processes and events are halted bringing the system back to its initial state. In other words: “stop what you are doing and start again”. A reset is usually done in response to a faulty condition when it is impossible or undesirable for an activity to proceed.

Note that resets happen usually in a controlled manner. This is exactly our case today with the COVID 19 Pandemic. Many countries are taking preventive measures. It was undesirable to proceed so they chose to act before the virus really hit.

Soft reset

I don’t want to downplay the impacts of a global crisis. So why call it “soft”? I’d like to put a few things in perspective. A lot has changed in the last month. It is true that human physical contact is being severely restricted. With that, we are seeing schools, businesses and workplaces shutting down all around the world.

On the other hand, many of the conveniences of modern life are still available (for those who can afford them): hot baths, wine, electricity, cars, netflix, cellphones, chocolate… and the list goes on and on. Attached to many of those services and products of everyday life we have the global economy, financial markets, national governments and multinational corporations.

Even though we’ve been suddenly pushed into a new routine, a lot of those structures and resources remain the same. Including our busyness mindset. We can’t physically go to the office, school or gym, but we are replacing all of that with going online. Reenacting the same pattern, just using a different tool. Naomi Klein warns us about the Silicon Valley dystopia:

Now we are spending our lives glued to screens. Our social relations are mediated by corporate platforms (e.g. twitter, facebook, youtube, zoom). Our food and products being delivered by gig employers (e.g. amazon, doordash, uber)

Naomi Klein

There is another option. According to Chris Mackie – the Chief Medical Officer here in London, Ontario – “social distancing” is not the appropriate term. We should think “social cohesion and physical distancing”. This perspective invites us to focus on our immediate family, own neighbourhood, local environment and small businesses in our community. Reconnecting with people and places right in front of us.

What is the point of a reset?

A reset is an opportunity to try again. Chances are if we make the same choices, we will achieve the same undesirable state once again. Change might seem the obvious course of action. But it is not that simple.

With more than 30,000 deaths, there is an immediate concern in containing the spread of COVID-19,  but the impacts go beyond the death threat posed by the disease. Healthcare system overload, stock market crash, record unemployment, and skyrocketing debts are just some of the challenges we will be facing.

It is crucial to understand that those problems already existed. Created by the privatization of essential services, economic systems based on artificial mechanisms, normalizing precarious employment, and unequal distribution of wealth and services. The COVID-19 crisis just exposes the fragility of our current system.

It is part of human nature to seek comfort in what is familiar to us. Brene Brown in her new podcast explains how hard it is for many of us to be new at something. It is just natural to resist as much as possible by clinging to the old ways, even if they are the source of our problems. To break this vicious cycle and prevent other soft resets, we need to:

  1. embrace discomfort instead of shying away from it.  And normalize it.
  2. put things in perspective and realize it won’t last forever. It is a transition.
  3. manage our expectations and accept that it is ok not to be perfect from the beginning. We are learning!

We don’t want to deal with all the negative impacts of a global pandemic but “the real pandemic is capitalism. Millions of people are going to die because of how the system is designed. COVID-19 is just the latest disease… It’s not the economy that needs to be saved, it is the economy that is killing us!

Astra Taylor, author of Democracy May Not Exist, But We’ll Miss It When It’s Gone

An extractive economy is the familiar old thing that we will have to let go of if we want to prevent another soft reset or even a hard reset.

What is a hard reset then?

A hard reset not only erases current processes, it also erases more permanent structures that will require a longer time to be rebuilt. Global warming is an example of a potential hard reset. Rising ocean levels, melting ice caps, accelerated animal extinction, depletion of fossil fuels and many other natural resources will have a much longer effect than one single virus. And it will be significantly more disruptive. Delaying action regarding the environmental crisis is not an option.

Here in Canada, a letter signed by 265 academics asked the Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to reconsider a $15-billion “bailout package” for oil and gas companies: “we urge the government to channel public revenues both to the immediate health crisis, and toward economic planning that will provide long-term benefits for Canadian workers and families, our ecosystems and the climate.” 

Ironically, Oil, gas and auto industries are responsible for many more deaths than the coronavirus. In one year, there are over 1 million traffic-related deaths and 4.2 million premature deaths associated with outdoor air pollution. With the recent restrictions, we are saving way more lives from traffic collisions and air pollution than from COVID-19. In China alone, it is estimated that the lockdown prevented 77,000 deaths from air pollution. Just a few weeks after the lockdown, the positive environmental impact in many parts around the world was astounding. 

Only a crisis – actual or perceived – produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around.

Milton Friedman

We always had the power to save many lives, but we lacked a sense of urgency. Let’s not lose the sense of urgency and find a different way.

Emerging Future

The scenario described at the beginning of the article is one of our possible futures. Right now, there are many of those ideas lying around. One of them is the popularization of urban farms. There is a real potential to feed entire urban populations just using the available green spaces within cities.

Others ideas are already happening. Cycling – the cheapest, safest and healthiest mode of transportation – is seeing a surge in many cities. Walking and cycling infrastructure is being deployed overnight in cities like Bogota and Calgary. Here in London, Ontario public transit is now free. And the Federal government has way fewer restrictions to provide income support to pretty much who stopped working recently.

And real-life examples of an inclusive economy are popping up in different parts around the world. Social procurement policies are gaining traction. They include environmental and social criteria to their purchasing contracts which inevitably leads to a stronger local economy and community. David Le Page is one of the leading voices here in Canada.

A city in the UK took this to the next level. Preston combined the power of large local instutions with living wage policies, community banking and a broad-based ownership structure to catapult the city from the bottom of the well-being list to the most improved city in the UK and a better place to live than London.

Time for change

Disruptive times are fertile ground for change. Even the most trivial tasks become more intentional because auto-pilot doesn’t work anymore. We are more aware of our choices and sometimes we have to re-learn how to behave under the new conditions. May we be wise enough to pause and look into our hearts to make the choices that reflect our best self, even if they are not the easiest ones.

4 thoughts on “A soft reset for humankind

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