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Pandemic and Lock-down as Opportunity for Change

A public service cannot be a business that creates revenue for its shareholders.


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Peter Wurmsdobler

2 years ago | 5 min read

Many years ago a social sciences program on the Austrian National Radio channel ORF-Oe1 spoke about the concept of “fate as opportunity”.

What stood out for me and what I still remember is that falling ill may be a sign of something not being quite right, a message from your body.

Being forced to tread a bit lighter and pause life during an illness may be an occasion to re-evaluate one’s situation and take it as an opportunity for change.

That being said, perhaps the corona virus(SARS-CoV-2) pandemic could be seen in a similar vein as the world seems to be put on pause with severe social and economic consequences, close to a collapse.

Prior to the pandemic, the news was filled with stories on Climate Change; yet very little action followed and the world appeared to continue on its well-established path. Without wishing for a pandemic at the time, I wrote in Alternative Measures of Progress — a Personal Experience long before:

“Perhaps it always needs a tangible and serious threat to our living conditions to start acting. Unfortunately, market mechanisms tend to counter proportionally to the severity of a state, which may not be enough; perhaps we ought to act proportionally to the trend towards a severe state, with providence.”

Perhaps now is the time to re-evaluate our economic system and its metrics, our understanding of growth and development. There are many books on that matter, e.g. Tim Jackson’s Prosperity without Growth: Foundations for the Economy of Tomorrow.

In the following I would like to re-hash what I have written in other stories in the context of published articles on the pandemic and lock-down forcing us to adopt a simpler life style.

Cull Consumerism

On April 29th 2020, BBC Newsnight’s Emily Maitlis had some guests in a discussion on how they cope with the lock-down: Salma Shah, presenter of the “Now wash your hands” podcast, actress Tracy-Ann Oberman and Matthew Parris from The Times.

The gist was that they all did appreciate the simplicity and quietness of life in lock-down, “away from consumerism, [..] the need to buy frivolous things”, but focus on the essential, on health.

The BBC programme reminded me of my own article, The Environmental Cost of Material Affluence, on how to reduce the material footprint:

… simply to consume less, have less stuff. […] Perhaps adopting a slightly more modest life style would be a start, or at least consider the footprint of items you consume by consulting Mike Berners-Lee’s How Bad are Bananas?

Perhaps a society that is not dependent on an accelerating production — consumption cycle but strives to grow in non-material terms, through education, science and arts would be desirable.

Alternative Shopping

Edit: previous content of this section subsumed in following article:

Reducing Resource Expenditure for the Procurement of Household Goods

In order to support our lives, individuals and households need to procure goods, from food over clothes and books to…

medium.com

Public Transport

On 27 March 2020 the BBC Science & Technology published Climate change: ‘Gob-smacking’ vision for future UK transport reported:

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: “Public transport and active travel will be the natural first choice for our daily activities.
“We will use our cars less and be able to rely on a convenient, cost-effective and coherent public transport network.”

Surprising it is to hear that from a Conservative government minister. The statement resonated very much with my personal view on public transport both as a public service and a shared form of mobility, articulated in Thoughts on the Energy (and Carbon) Saving Potential for Personal Mobility:

A public service cannot be a business that creates revenue for its shareholders; it is a service for all stakeholders of society.

This echoes the Business Round Table’s Updated Statement Moves Away from Shareholder Primacy, Includes Commitment to All Stakeholders. Similar statements were made in articles on the Financial Times.

Well, the pendulum of economic thought seems to be moving away from the Chicago school of economics as we realise that it needs a bit more than the economy to hold society together; perhaps there is a society after all.

As far as the impact on Climate Change is concerned, like I wrote on Thoughts on the Consequences of an Increasing Personal Mobility Radius, large savings in energy expenditure are to be had with any shared form of mobility, of which public transport is one, or shared autonomous vehicles another.

I was particularly pleased that, in line with SUVs and 4x4s — How can these vehicles remain acceptable?, the BBC publication Climate change: ‘Gob-smacking’ vision for future UK transport articulates an issue with SUV:

Some campaigners say the government needs to start by reducing the sales of big heavy SUVs, which need more fuel than smaller vehicles and create a greater demand for materials — even if they are powered by electricity.

Working from Home

When I was working on Thoughts on the Energy (and Carbon) Saving Potential for Personal Mobility some time ago before the pandemic I stated:

Given modern collaborative tools and high speed networks these days, however, I think that there is quite some energy saving potential in remote work.

My estimate of a savings potential of around 10% was perhaps on the lower side.

Given that I find myself working from home 5 days a week, i.e. 100% and that quite a significant portion the working population does so, too, and could continue to do so, the savings in energy and resource expenditure are worth having, with all knock-on effects to transport system such as less needs for office space, or less urban concentration.

I could be living in France on the country side (provided a decent internet connection)!

Conclusion

In my opinion, the majority of all economic activities is only there to support mankind as a whole in all our principal endeavours, not the other way round.

Economy, technology, industry and finance need to serve mankind, not the other way round where people become enslaved in the system that appears to be created for the benefit of a few.

Perhaps working on metrics around that understanding can help to re-focus and grow in different ways. In then end it is all down to the metrics global society chooses to be optimised that will determine our path forward.

This article was originally published by Peter Wurmsdobler on medium.

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Peter Wurmsdobler

Lead Software Engineer

Contributes to the technological foundations for the self-driving revolution at Five, UK. Interested in sustainable economies and renewable energy.


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