A second hope for the post-pandemic, wishing that some of the new sustainable behaviours being adopted in the wake of covid-19 find a way to adhere to the new normal lifestyle.
|6 Jul 2020|
|Written by Joao Nolasco|
|Perspectives, Provocations & Initiatives: Covid-19|
The covid-19 pandemic rages on. According to the latest WHO's covid-19 situation report #162 (WHO, 2020), we presently have 10 185 374 people globally infected with a toll of 503 862 dead. This represents an increase of over 4 million infections and roughly 137 thousand deaths since my last blog post one month ago. Whilst expanding on the possibilities of where the current “path of change” is leading us, the objective of the present blog post (as the second of three brief opinion articles) is to continue contrasting the evolving grim scenario with the highlights of happier hopes and wishes for the future, that can also provide some ointment to the challenges and sacrifices that are being done in the present.
In anticipation to what is argued in the paragraphs below, my second hope for the post-pandemic relates to the wish that some of the new behaviours being adopted in the wake of covid-19 find a way to adhere to the new normal lifestyle. Especially those that contribute to human realization and the democratization a more sustainable lifestyle: a “smart green lifestyle”.
My last blog post ended with the question of whether the current pandemic had the strength to persistently alter valuations and propel behavioural change towards more sustainable approaches. This is an important question, as behaviour is key to economics (Thaler, 2015). Behaviour defines consumption patterns, which in turn shape aggregate demand that induce changes on the supply side. Behavioural change is typically driven by valuation (by desire or need), it often takes time to sink in and to be adherent it must be voluntary, not imposed. The current behavioural change witnessed in response to the covid-19 pandemic has been imposed, hence there is still significant uncertainty on whether some of the changes in behaviour witnessed in the recent months will adhere to the “new normal”.
Some of the recent covid-19 propelled behavioural changes denote however deeper underlying processes, related to the ongoing shift in our techno-economic paradigm (Perez, 2002). Indeed, the “great lockdown” has changed our way of living towards an online life (Gopinath, 2020; Ofcom, 2020). Online working, shopping, studying, entertaining, exercising, have been tenets of the new normal. The new way of living has also extended to apparel and care, with masks and sanitizing gel standing as essential accessories when leaving home. But as the lockdown eases and the new normal finds its way in, some of the covid-19 driven behaviours will also be driven out. The use of masks will continue as long as the virus is on the loose. But wearing masks is fuelled by the momentary urge of the pandemic and masks will likely fall out of fashion as soon as the virus is controlled.
On the other hand, there are covid-19 induced behaviours that will find adherence to the new normal, as they relate to deeper shifts in evolving consumer demand associated to our current age of Information, Communication and Technology (ICT) (Perez, 2018). As highlighted by Carlota Perez, online working is likely to be one of such behaviours, standing as one of the features of the aspirational lifestyle of our present ICT age: the “green good life”. Naturally involving a more intensive use of ICT in all aspects of life, other features of this “smart green lifestyle” include: (i) the focus on sustainability via the inclination towards natural materials, minimization of waste, promotion of reutilization and recycling; (ii) the focus on health and well-being with exercise, fitness and preference for “…organic, locally sourced fresh foods rather than highly processed ones” (Jacobs & Mazzucato, 2016, p. 202); and (iii) the favouring of experiencing, access and renting in detriment to ownership.
The concept of “smart green lifestyles” also expands to the field of energy, where the ongoing technological evolution of the ICT age is bringing a complete revolution to the ways we use and manage energy. This revolution in the direction towards the materialization of a low carbon economy is happening inside our homes, where we are witnessing an increasing electrification of energy consumption (including heating and cooling), with ever more efficient electrical appliances, and where consumers now have the option to also produce and sell electricity (Caramizaru & Uihlein, 2020). The democratization of power supply is also revolutionizing our neighbourhoods, where the technological advances that make grids smart will soon allow neighbours to trade electricity between each other, whilst the usage of public lighting will be more efficient by actively following movement in response to demand. Mobility is also an energy related area where the new technological frontiers of our ICT age are propelling intense innovation. The arrival of electrical vehicles and its outlook for fast deployment despite the pandemic (IEA, 2020) is one of the many expressions of such dynamism, along with the new, more efficient, data driven platforms for planning a trip, calling a cab, sharing a ride, a car or even a bicycle.
But what about human relations? Within our current ICT age, how will the increasing virtualization of human relations translate into the aspirational concept of a smart green lifestyle? Paradoxically to what could be expected in our times of hyper connectivity, the increasing virtualization of life is also leaving people lonelier and more anxious (Amatenstein, 2019). This is worrying, as it is increasingly acknowledged that human relations are key for human realization, happiness and ultimate to increased life-expectancy (Layard, 2005; Social Science Bites, 2020). In my view, an interesting aspect of life that the covid-19 pandemic emphasized was the importance of “real” human relations and of supporting networks. Hence my hope: that in the new normal, virtual relations and the online obsession for “looking good” do not topple the uniqueness of real relations.
Finally, in an increasingly unequal world (Stiglitz, 2015), it is also likely that the concept of smart green lifestyles is a luxury and aspiration of the few: typically individuals living in developed economies, where poverty is less ubiquitous and material abundance permits the degree of connectivity that allows for the materialization of such aspirational lifestyles. On this note, it is worth noting that despite the decline in extreme poverty “…almost half the world's population — 3.4 billion people — still struggles to meet basic needs…” (World Bank, 2018).
All in all, the world will be different after covid-19. How different, no one can tell. But what can be observed with confidence is that the new normal of the post-pandemic will entail a directionality towards smarter and greener lifestyles, that in turn will have cross impacts across all aspects of life. Smart green lifestyles are welcomed, but it is worth highlighting that they are not a panacea. Indeed, their adoption may also bear possible negative impacts: e.g. the impacts of being online on mental health and those deriving from children's use of technology in their brain development (Gottschalk, 2016). As always, in periods of crisis and transformation, the role of governments is key to steer behavioural change, whilst promoting ways to mitigate the negative impacts of the change we are living in. What will be the government's role after the pandemic? Will governments be able to find appropriate responses to the ensuing mounting social and economic challenges? What about the values of solidarity and community? Will they find a way to the new normal of the post-pandemic and continue being the glue of society? These are some of the questions to explore in the next blog post.
Opinion Article originally published in “Bloco Zero” where detailed references are provided.
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