The global pandemic of COVID-19 has put governments and health systems around the world in check, as well as forcing more than a third of the world’s population to be confined, creating a crisis unprecedented in the twenty-first century. The economic forecasts are not at all encouraging: in the case of Spain, for example, the International Monetary Fund predicts a GDP collapse of 8% and a recession similar to that experienced by our country after the civil war.
Today, however, we wish to offer some facts and reflections that give cause for hope. They say the good thing about crises is that they are also an opportunity to reinvent themselves and to do things differently. In recent weeks we have seen the networks flooded with messages expressing that this "return to normality" so much desired, maybe it should be a return to another normal. What do you want the world to be like after the coronavirus? Have we learned anything from this crisis?
If this epidemic has taught us anything, it is that, in order to face adversity, we need science. More investment is needed in both basic science and applied science, because we do not know whether what we are studying today can be the key to helping us overcome challenges in the future.
Without science, there is no future, and for this reason we must invest more in research and also fight against the job insecurity suffered in the academic career. On the other hand, governments should support all their decisions in scientific knowledge.
Telecommuting is possible
Working from home is something that was already being demanded in many jobs that did not require physical presence, in order to improve the quality of life of employees, family reconciliation and also productivity.
In a few weeks we have seen how companies have quickly adapted to the circumstances and how work continues to move forward. There may be an increasing number of companies in the future that allow their employees to telework on an occasional or regular basis. In addition to the advantages for the workers and the obvious savings that this entails for the companies because they do not need such large facilities, society as a whole would also benefit: on the one hand, and as we are seeing these days, pollution and bottlenecks at the entrances to large cities would be significantly reduced and crowding in public transport avoided.
It has also been found that there is no need for so many business trips, and that many of the meetings that require expensive travel (in economic and environmental terms) can be done perfectly by videoconference. In the scientific field, for example, it is common to travel frequently to congresses and seminars, but there are already initiatives such as No Fly Climate Sci that have positioned themselves on this issue and offer guidelines and alternatives to reduce working trips.
Communication between neighbours has increased. We have gone from being strangers crossing paths on the stairs to being interested in each other’s health, to chatting every afternoon from our windows, and getting to know each other. Perhaps one of those good intentions for when we get out of this crisis is to remember the people who live around you and the support they offered you, making our cities and neighbourhoods a little friendlier.
Continuing with the cities, perhaps it is time to rethink urban planning and the use of spaces: wouldn’t it be fantastic if we could all at least see a tree from our windows? In these weeks of confinement, we also miss nature: perhaps one of the first things you do as soon as possible is to go to a park... how far is the closest park to your home?
There is an urban planning proposal called "the city of fifteen minutes": the idea is that all people can find, at a maximum distance of fifteen minutes walking or cycling, everything they need to live: shops and supermarkets, work centre, medical assistance, schools and parks. The goal is to make cities much friendlier and environmentally friendly. Sounds good, right?
Let’s give the planet a break
Videos and photos of animals recovering lost spaces that mankind had taken from them keep circulating. Concentrations of major pollutants are decreasing, air traffic has plummeted and so has the associated pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.
However, all this will remain an isolated event if, when restrictions are lifted, we return to that old normality. The coronavirus crisis will be nothing compared to the climate disaster, and the planet keeps sending us warnings: we are dragging the Earth to the point of no return, but we are also in time to avoid disaster. In these weeks we have learned that we are capable of enormous sacrifices to protect ourselves as a species, and the sacrifices we must make to mitigate climate change would not be as great as those we are making right now. In fact, they are opportunities to live better and in a healthier way.
This same week, the European Alliance for Green Recovery was created, with the participation of political representatives, business leaders and various organisations calling on the European Union to make the fight against climate change the pillar of the strategy for economic recovery, and for massive investments to be made to create green jobs, transforming the agro-food sector and improving citizens' lifestyles.
Supporting local businesses
Small neighbourhood shops and family businesses are struggling during this crisis. In fact, many will not be able to open their doors again and the sacrifice and effort of years will have been left in tatters. Now more than ever it is necessary to support them and to go to these small shops as soon as they can resume activity.
You can also support some of the many crowdfunding campaigns that businesses are launching these days to ensure their survival.
Another of the reflections made these days has to do with proximity feeding: globalization has many benefits, but the transport of products throughout the planet, besides having a very high environmental cost, increases the risk of spreading new diseases rapidly. These days, small producer organisations have also mobilised to ask their sector for concrete support that can protect the local economy and ensure food security in times of crisis.
Caring for those who care for us
Another thing we are reminded of during this crisis is the importance of care and of having a system that guarantees it. Health workers are suffering first-hand from the ravages of this epidemic, and we realize that, as with science, it is necessary to put an end to the precarious working conditions of those who look after our health and to have a strong health system capable of responding to emergencies.
Additionally, during this emergency we are seeing that there are essential jobs and that are not always recognized: care. The care of our children, the elderly, the dependent people our society would not be possible without care, but these are usually invisible. During health emergencies such as this one, health care is necessary and essential than ever, will we give them the priority they deserve when this is all over?
Enjoy the little things
These days, many of us simply miss small pleasures like taking a night stroll or enjoying a drink in open spaces with our friends and family. The things we miss most are simple; we don’t need to travel or buy the latest technological advances to feel fulfilled. If we are able to remember this when we can embrace our loved ones again, we may be a little happier after the crisis than before.