Almost exactly ten years ago, the South Eastman Transition Initiative came into existence. The Initiative was then and is now a loose grouping of individuals who have coalesced around the notion that our lifestyle, focused on consumption, was and is unsustainable. In one of our early writings, we said:
“Anyone thinking critically about the ‘Current Canadian Lifestyle’, must realize that this lifestyle can only be justified by believing at least one of the following:
We were concerned about Peak Oil and Climate Change, and were not sure at all which of these phenomena would put an end to the current consumption oriented lifestyle, but were quite certain it would be one of them. Gas prices, then, were on their way up. Following from that conviction, much of our focus has been on simpler living and building community. We did not anticipate a pandemic.
Well maybe a little bit! We did remind one another from time to time, that prior to the industrial revolution famine and pandemic had limited population growth. It was the technology and science realized through the industrial revolution that had brought these two banes of society under control. We asked ourselves, sometimes, when will one of these, famine or pandemic, again correct population growth.
The alarm about the unsustainability of consumption focused living and growth oriented economics was sounded long before the formation of SETI in southeastern Manitoba. People have always had a problem with this alarm because the alarm does not come with a solution. True there are significant think tanks such as the Post Carbon Institute, the Center for the Advancement of Steady State Economics and the New Economy Coalition, to name but my favourites, but none of them have been able to put forward a solution with significant appeal to societies decision makers.
Now along comes COVID-19. In just a short time this virus has demonstrated the degree of action a government, any government, can take once it is convinced that drastic action is needed. Of course no government can take drastic action unless the people support it, and, on the whole, the people have been supporting their governments.
What has made it easier to act in the case of this pandemic is that the virus is no respecter of persons. We are all concerned about how this pandemic is going to affect our family and immediate community, but we all also realize that there is no way we can isolate ourselves from what is happening beyond those circles. This applies to the wealthy and the poor, the ruling elite and the homeless.
What’s going to be the new normal? No one knows. But just as the Bubonic Plague on the middle ages put an end to feudalism, here’s hoping COVID-19 will put an end to the idea that we can grow perpetually and the aggressive capitalism that has fed this notion.