The first SARS-Cov2 vaccine has been approved for use in the UK and we are all looking forward to ‘things getting back to normal’, preferably by Christmas. I do hope they won’t! Oh yes, of course I long to be able to meet up with a gang of friends in a packed pub and to be able to hug them. Of course I want to go to live music events, and rugby matches and to sing in a choir and all those other things that improve my life, but what do we mean by ‘normal’. If we mean: just how it used to be, then no, I hope things will never return to ‘normal’.
At the start of the first lockdown we heard the birds singing – no longer drowned out by traffic. We smelt clean air! All sorts of community action groups sprang into action to look after neighbours. We were given a glimpse of ways in which our lives could be better. We were also forced to consider the structure of our economy – so heavily dependent on the service sector and facing a massive contraction.
Our (world) economy is based on constant growth: every year we must produce more and every year we need the population to increase to provide both more people to buy things and also more people to produce them. Constant growth cannot be sustained – our planet is finite, so eventually there will not be enough raw materials to produce more things and in the end, not enough land for everyone to lie down! Obviously we will never get to that point, but how will we avoid it? Massive famine? Vast, lethal pandemics? Devastating wars? Whatever it is it will have to kill a lot of people.
This pandemic has given us an unsought for and most unwelcome opportunity to take stock and think about what sort of ‘normal’ we really want. That will mean changes and they will probably need to be drastic and far-reaching if they are to make any real difference, because the first change has to be the creation of a sustainable economy and, inextricably linked to it, a sustainable population. They have to go hand in hand: if the population keeps growing then the economy has to keep growing in order to supply it, so one way or another, humanity has either to find a means of controlling total world population or accept the inevitability of conflict driven by competition for finite resources. It also has to find an economic system that does not demand ever-increasing wealth, since that, also, requires ever-increasing resources.
It will be a very different way of life – definitely not ‘normal’!