Our award-winning reporting has moved

Context provides news and analysis on three of the world’s most critical issues:

climate change, the impact of technology on society, and inclusive economies.

OPINION: It's time for a new normal - with fewer fossil fuels

by Johanna Partin & Anna Lisa Boni | Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance
Tuesday, 26 May 2020 14:39 GMT

A cyclist rides along a newly created bicycle lane by Transport for London on Park Lane in London, following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), London, Britain, May 21, 2020. REUTERS/Toby Melville

Image Caption and Rights Information

* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Our pre-coronavirus 'normal' wasn't working. Here's what could come next

Johanna Partin is director of the Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance, and Anna Lisa Boni is secretary general of EUROCITIES.

There’s been a lot of talk about returning society to ‘normal’ as we recover from Covid-19. But let’s be clear: pre-Covid ‘normal’ wasn’t working. At least not for anyone who cared about inclusive economies or sustainability.

Think of what ‘normal’ was pre-Covid-19.

It was 7 million people dying prematurely every year due to air pollution. It was a power grid dependent on dirty and dangerous fossil fuels. It was a transportation system geared towards petrol and diesel-powered vehicles. It was a consumptive market producing too much plastic. It was a food system that was wasteful and focused on meat-based proteins.

And it was a quality of life that was inequitable, unjust and non-inclusive for too much of society. It was a global economic system based on exponential economic growth that left too many people out. And it led to an economic melt-down that allowed 1.6 billion people globally to lose or be at risk of losing their jobs.

That was ‘normal’. Let’s not return to that normal ever again. It wasn’t working for the majority of people and it definitely wasn’t working for the planet. So, let’s leapfrog that old ‘normal’ as we recover from Covid-19 going forward.

Here’s what the ‘new normal’ should look like. There are five fronts that we should renormalize now.

First, let’s give a longer, healthier life to those 7 million people dying prematurely every year from air pollution by switching off anything that pollutes – coal, oil and gas – and make sure our energy, transportation and waste systems are climate neutral and powered by renewables.

Second, let’s tech up our transportation system so that it’s sustainable – transitioning from fossil-fueled vehicles. To make this possible, we’ll need a revolution in infrastructure deployment. And all that walking and biking that everyone is doing now during Covid-19, let’s also make that the new normal, too.

Third, let’s re-envision wasteful systems that make it cheaper and easier to throw things away than to reuse them, so that our production and consumption are circular and regenerative. All that plastic won’t end up in the ocean and overwhelm the fish population. Things will be used over and over and over again. The new normal means nothing is wasted.

Fourth, let’s fix our food system so that we’re utilizing all previously wasted food and relying increasingly on sustainable local production and consumption. In the old normal, we wasted one-third of all food produced for human consumption each year. The new normal needs to take us away from wasting food, and from industrial animal agriculture – since its pathogen-propagation and pandemic promotion is putting too many of us in harm’s way – and move us towards a more sustainable practice.

Fifth, let’s ensure that a healthy, prosperous quality of life is available and accessible to everyone. The new normal is equitable and inclusive. That means poorer communities aren’t saddled with polluting industries on their doorsteps. That means clean and safe buildings and non-polluting cars and public transit aren’t just happening in communities that have the financial means to do so.

These five fronts are doable. We know what the solutions are. We have the technology to do it. We have the know-how and human and financial resources to do it. It’s just a matter of will. Of a decision that we make right now to do things differently. To have a new normal. That’s all it is.

And if Covid-19 shows us anything, it shows us that societal structures can quickly and radically rework themselves to keep humanity safe and thriving.