“Tragedy need not be its only legacy…the pandemic represents a rare but narrow window of opportunity to reflect, reimagine, and reset our world to create healthier, more equitable and more prosperous future”
—Professor Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Director,
World Economic Forum.
I am a believer of this philosophy and in particular, the narrowness of the window for action. This cannot be an evolutionary process, it must be revolutionary, because, if left to natural order, I’m afraid that human resistance to change will quickly revert to the old normal which got us to the dreaded Covid-19.
The coronavirus did not give us time to write white papers, green papers, hold public consultations and debates in parliament. It thrust itself upon the world and we (the global we) were forced to adapt in record time. In T&T, suddenly our health care system usually plagued with inefficiencies and mismanagement was Control Centre and able to bring us to a level of containment that invited international accolades.
For a long time, people like me have called for work from home/flexi hours as a solution to the gridlock on the nation’s roads, arguing that this would also improve family and quality of life. So many parents leave home while kids are asleep and return when they in bed. But the traction never took. The state and private sectors remained steadfast in wanting physical presence in the workplace, as if, to see employees at desks equals productivity. Needless to say, our poor productivity ranking on the Global competitiveness index tells the real story.
I have heard many success stories of work from home during Covid-19. Will these translate into long term social reset? Imagine the savings in rent, maintenance, overheads, etc (where practicable) which can result and contribute to increased business competitiveness. And most important, the concomitant reduction in our carbon footprint. Of course, there will be the obvious losers; landlords, clothing and shoe suppliers, even restaurants which depend on working class customers. This is where the opportunity for reimagining comes in. The conversion of vacated real estate into greener and more productive uses? A shift to “home-work” attire, more delivery of food? Post-COVID demand patterns are changing and with it new opportunities are emerging.
Then there is the foreign travel for work and meetings. Covid-19 brought this to a grinding halt. Did business meetings stop happening? Not at all, online meeting platforms like zoom and google chat videos and others I’m ignorant of, stepped in to provide solutions. Again, if this remains the post-COVID norm, CO2 emissions would be reduced and business travellers could see more of their families. The biggest casualty in this instance would be the airline industry.
But maybe the airline industry needs such a jolt to revolutionise its response to the climate change imperative with respect to fossil fuel consumption and health protocols. Carbon dioxide emitted by airlines increased by 32% from 2013 to 2018, according to a study by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT). In fact, the ICCT calculated the total increase over the past five years to be equivalent to building about 50 coal-fired power plants (reported in The Guardian by Gwyn Topham). Even before Covid-19, the industry was aiming by 2050 to cut total emissions to half the 2005 level, using a combination of sustainable fuels and radical new technologies. Well, now is the time to reset targets, maybe 2030 or sooner, needs to be the new 2050.
Let’s talk education. Certainly at the tertiary level, the University of the West Indies, in quick time, transitioned to online classes and exams. This was a phenomenal accomplishment for an institution generally resistant to change. And while the teething problems are still being ironed out, the Institution has indeed virtually kept the wheels of teaching and learning in motion. Unfortunately, we have not been as nimble to adapt at the level of primary and secondary education.
While there are certainly some success stories of teachers finding creative online modes to continue the teaching process, it’s not across the board and the issue of student access to computers and internet adds to the challenge. And I won’t do more than mention the disturbing contentions around the administering of SEA, CSEC and CAPE. Teaching and learning has been reimagined beyond brick and mortar.
Yes Covid-19 has triggered severe human and economic tragedy, but it has also unleashed the human spirit in imaginative ways.
From zoom congregational worship, to online utility payments to Banks growing a conscience to self- sufficiency in social distancing. Let us continue to reflect, reimagine and reset.