That most countries, including the most advanced ones, are ill-prepared for the sudden COVID 19 outbreak proves that the world has not invested in where it matters the most: relevant education, public health, decentralized provision of vital goods and services. The result is the panic and uncoordinated and fragmented responses we witness right now. Responding to and defeating an invisible global enemy calls for global coordination and cooperation and solidarity. In other words, solidarity, and sharing of information, knowledge, expertise, and resources within and across countries and continents. The absence of solidarity and collaboration makes each country grapple with the outbreak within its confines. For populist leaders, the easiest response is resorting to quick fix: closing their borders as if the COVID 19 could be shut out by shutting the borders. During his solitary prayer in the Vatican at the peak of the COVID 19 pandemic in Italy, Pope Francis urged the world to see the coronavirus pandemic as a test of solidarity and a reminder of basic values” and that the health crisis put everyone “in the same boat”.[i]
The lesson here is that we need to shift our priorities away from the notion of bigger is better toward small and decentralised units. The orthodox notion of bigger is better that has driven the modern development toward over-centralization has proven itself to be ineffective. The results are mega metropolis with mega glass towers, high ways for mega lorries transporting endless chain of necessary and un-necessary products, a complex web of mega metros and airports, mega power plants dominated by polluting coal, gas, nuclear and hydro plants, mega monoculture-agri-business, mega ports for mega ships ploughing the seas with mega containers and mega fishing trawlers to feed mega markets owned by fewer and fewer mega transnational corporations.
The inevitable results include stress and pollutions of various kinds including air, noise, light, water, and stench which breed outbreaks of diseases as we witness today. Other harmful consequences can be seen in the growing mental ill-health, depression, and a general sense of identity crises, unhappiness and satisfaction, and human insecurity.
Therefore, that we have been grounded and provided with ample time by the coronavirus we should be able to reflect about and chart a new direction toward more solidarity and cooperation on global issues like the current COVID 19. Writing in the Financial Times on 25 March 2020, the prime minister of Ethiopia and the 2019 Nobel Peace laureate Aby Ahmed warns that “..if the virus is not defeated in Africa, it will only bounce back to the rest of the world. That is why the current strategy of uncoordinated country-specific measures, while understandable, is myopic, unsustainable, and potentially counter-productive. A virus that ignores borders cannot be tackled successfully like this. We can defeat this invisible and vicious adversary — but only with global leadership. Without that, Africa may suffer the worst, yet it will not be the last. We are all in this together, and we must work together to the end.”[ii]
Small could be beautiful and more efficient more sustainable
Thus, one of the many lessons we should learn from the corona crisis is to shift the direction from bigger is better toward smaller and decentralized economic models with smaller and self-reliant units of production, supplies, and services. This is not about going to back hunting and gathering mode of society. As can be seen in the global growth of transition towns and eco-villages, reinventing smaller units is the new modern way of leapfrogging back to living with and not apart from nature. Reflecting on the COVID-19 pandemic, the Indian earth scientist Dr. Vandana Shiva asserts that “With the health emergency engendered by the coronavirus we need to look at systems that spread disease and systems that create health in a holistic, systems approach. A systems approach to health care in times of the corona crisis would address not just the virus, but also how new epidemics are spreading as we invade into the homes of other beings. It also needs to address the comorbidity conditions related non-communicable chronic diseases which are spreading due to non-sustainable, anti-nature , unhealthy industrial food systems” She continues “…we need to discard “policies and practices that lead to the physical and moral degradation of the food system while destroying our health and endangering the planet’s ecological stability, and endangering the biogenetic survival of life on the planet.”[iii]
Thus, it is high time we turn toward a new sustainable form of production and consumption. A form that is more efficient, healthier, safer, and sustainable than the currently dominant, extractive, and destructive forms. Toward this kind of utopian society, I propose the following seven strategic steps.
- Decentralise the mega citifies and sectors in order to localise the control over their vital sectors of education, health, production, and energy supply units. In such smaller communities, people will be able to walk and bike in green parks with small schools, clean energy plants, solar and heat pumps
- Focus on enlightenment and entrepreneurship education to prepare collaborative and job creating citizens rather than frightened job seekers
- Shift our economic system toward green and cradle to cradle zero economic production, processing and consumption systems that are in harmony with the environment
- Shift investment from the destructive militarised economy, commercialised public health to life giving and regenerative economic activities
- Reform from post-WWII world order to a more democratic global forum with equal representation of the different regions of the world according to proportional democracy with no veto to power on global issues
- Promote intercultural contacts, exchange, and collaborations to reduce harmful old and prevent new stereotypes
- Foster and reward international peaceful and climate-friendly joint ventures by providing tax-free to such ventures
Already we see all over the world people volunteering to help, offering food and sharing within and across communities. We also see doctors, nurses, caregivers, and social workers from multicultural backgrounds putting their lives at risk in order to save the lives of fellow humans. This heroic dedication shows the corona crisis has also ignited the best in people everywhere. People acting in solidarity both as individuals and communities. This could be a steppingstone toward a new world order based on compassion and solidarity.
Director of Crossing Borders