During the global financial crisis over a decade ago, the Financial Times reported that at heart this was a narrative crisis. How you dealt with it depended on the story you used. Was it a mortgage crisis, a banking crisis, a geo-political crisis, the shift to the Pacific (higher savings rates), a financial crisis, or even a crisis of capitalism?
Ultimately, the deeper crisis was waived off and Wall Street was saved at the expense of Main Street. China too saved the day, and all returned to normalcy. The window of a possibility for deep change did not materialize.
We are in a similar situation today. As during the French revolution, time is fluid, we have entered uncharted waters. Once the crisis nears its end, many will be tempted to go back to the world we knew. However, this is also the opportunity to create a different world.
What we do will be decided by the narrative we use. How deep do we wish to go, how much do we wish to change?
Gaian leadership at this time is about charting a new direction, exploring new scenarios, and creating global systems that can help us arrive at a new future.
Disease and Cure
If this is merely a disease crisis, then it is easy: find the cure and the vaccine. Ensure open science, the free flow of information, and find the medical solutions. The main insights will be: global science working together can create a difference. As one medical scientist commented: “Where are your sports heroes now? You pay them millions of Euros a year, 30,000 for us.” Science and technology with predictive Artificial Intelligence and innovative companies such as Ali Baba lead the way.
The Next Disease
While this could solve the crisis of 2020, what about when a similar zoonotic disease erupts? That would be a “food consumption crisis”. What is required then is to ban wet markets and the eating of exotic animals. It also means challenging masculine values in East Asia and the search for exotic alternative health potions. But mere legislation will not solve the day. We need to ensure that the traders in these lucrative areas – the bounty hunters – find new work, otherwise, the trade will just go underground. This again is not just a national Chinese issue; it requires a global coordinated effort. It will require Interpol to begin a shift toward becoming Earthpol.
But perhaps this is more than just a zoonotic crisis. It is not just wildlife that is the problem, but our consumption patterns. Many blame factory farming and warn that the next pandemic will emerge from how we produce food. We thus need to redesign cities and what we eat, so we do not encroach upon wildlife areas. We also urgently need to change our relationship to meat. While challenging someone’s meat consumption habit may be too much for many, the current food production models certainly need to shift.
Leadership and Climate Change
We now know that a global focus on global problems is possible. We now know that global coordination is possible. Solutions unimaginable months ago are now the new normal. Given that Covid-19 dwarfs as a crisis compared to climate change, this crisis can be seen as a pre-run, a mock trial, preparing us for the real event. What we learn today, or the changes we need to make today, can be crucial for the world we create. Thus, this crisis is essentially about leadership. Can we ensure the shift to a greener planet? This means moving toward alternative energies, ending the fossil fuel era for good.
The End of Capitalism
As we enter a severe recession, or a seven-year malaise, possibly a global depression, the real issue is economic. Creating a world where “money keeps on rolling” and not getting stuck in the hands of a few will become urgent and imperative. That means a world where “glocal” solutions are focused on equity and prosperity. Universal basic income, free education, health, and housing for all are not just the concerns of the left, but these are now issues required to be solved for global security. We thus need to challenge the world capitalist system with its mantra of “more, more, and even more, for the few. ” Development is very uneven, distorted by deep global inequity. But capitalism will die if we help it disappear.
This will mean that three economic spheres will evolve. Global cooperatives, globalized industries, and markets. It will require global governance, if not a global government. If fascism evolves, this will mean surveillance and the loss of individual liberties. But it can also mean the end of identity based on whom one hates, the end of imagined realities. It will mean accepting that we are first human beings. If we learn to cooperate instead of just competing, innovative technologies can create stunning wealth for all.
The New Renaissance
It is time to fix the great imbalance. In our four spheres of life: economy, society, spirit, and nature, we have overly favoured the economy at the expense of the others.
This, then, is a much deeper crisis and challenge. Our view of ourselves as material beings is being challenged. We can either panic or go deep within and mindfully find peace. Our view of ourselves as defined by the nation-state is being challenged. Viruses do not care about boundaries nor does nuclearization bring safety. Our view of ourselves as outside of nature, as separate from Gaia is being challenged. Our view of ourselves as defined by economics only is being challenged.
It is time to fix the great imbalance. In our four spheres of life: economy, society, spirit, and nature, we have overly favoured the economy at the expense of the others. We need a great Gaian rebalance, a move to a world with a quadruple bottom line: Prosperity, Purpose, People, and Planet. Covid-19 can help us create a new Renaissance – a transformation of self and society, home and planet. There have been two historical renaissances. The Asian classical Renaissance was personal: the quest for inner peace, enlightenment. The European Renaissance challenged dogma, allowing science and art to flourish, creating the possibility of revolution after revolution against authorities that do not serve us.
We are in a similar process now. However, the push, after a vaccine is found, will be to go back to what we know, the used future. It will be a pause followed by the light-speed economic growth back to where we were. But Gaian leadership at this time is about charting a new direction, exploring new scenarios, and creating global systems that can help us arrive at a new future.
Sohail Inayatullah is a member of our advisory panel and UNESCO Chair in Futures Studies; Professor, Tamkang University, Taiwan; Associate at Melbourne Business School, Australia, and Researcher at Metafuture.org and Metafutureschool.
Photo by Fateme Alaie