We need some reasons for optimism after witnessing domestic terrorists storm the Capitol in Washington DC yesterday in an attempt to overthrow the government. So I present here some reasons to be hopeful, despite the fact that although 2020 may have ended, the chaos has not.
Society can rapidly alter course
We the people changed our behaviors almost overnight last year. During the first Covid lockdowns, we began to wash our hands compulsively, physically distance from one another and wear our masks. Governments cranked out PPE and propped up their economies (some did a much better job than others…my post title reads “cautiously optimistic” not “wildly utopian”…).
Industry developed Covid vaccines at record speed. Usually, vaccine development takes about 10 years. Lots of public and private money—and political will—slashed the development time for a Covid vaccine to less than a year. We need this same political will to address the climate crisis. Mustering that will seems more conceivable now than it did even just a year ago (more on that below).
Covid has reined in our obsession with unattainable beauty standards
These beauty standards apply not only to women (but mostly to women). They also apply to our clothes, our homes, our meals—anything Instagrammable. The facades have fallen at least somewhat during Covid. We’ve seen people’s real lives on our screens and we like it.
Unachievable aesthetic standards help drive our off-the-rails consumerism. Many products and services succeed in the marketplace because they ultimately fail at home, guaranteeing repeat business in our never-ending pursuit of supposed perfection. Think ever-changing fast fashion or chasing away the gray roots in perpetuity. You become a life-long source of revenue.
The more we celebrate natural, realistic appearances and refuse to expend energy striving for standards that we can never reach, the more difficult the marketer’s job to sell us things we don’t need.
We’ve bought fewer things we don’t need
The Great Purge of Excess Stuff began last year when shelter-in-place rules went into effect. Surrounded by our clutter, many of us let go of piles of it (doing so can reduce stress). Closed stores make recluttering difficult, although we can always shop online (and people have been). But why buy that new outfit for a club or office we can’t go to? Last year, sales of clothing and makeup fell off a cliff.
In 2020, The Green New Deal became a mainstream talking point
If you don’t think we need to electrify our infrastructure, wean ourselves completely off of fossil fuels and overhaul our agricultural system, I invite you to stay with me in my home here in California this fall during wildfire season, now known as climate fire season and now lasting all year long. And don’t worry, most likely, my home won’t burn down—I live in an urban area with fewer trees—you just won’t be able to breath during your monthlong stay. Bring some masks. No, not those masks. The other masks.
From having no climate plan early in the race for the Democratic nomination, Biden later introduced an aggressive climate plan—thanks to pressure from groups like the youth-led Sunrise Movement.
The world realized that our simultaneous crises are intertwined
Addressing our related crises—climate, pandemic, extinction, racial injustice, income inequality—requires a just recovery for all. This every-man-for-himself method of doing business (and I stress man here) hasn’t worked very well (except for the man). Greening the economy will not only mitigate the climate crisis, it will create good jobs, increase opportunity and reduce inequality.
The United States can become a climate leader rather than laggard
If Biden’s climate plans are fulfilled, they could bring the goals of the Paris agreement—to limit global heating to 1.5°C—“within striking distance.” Biden has also vowed to return the United States to the Paris Agreement on his first day in office.
Former EPA chief Gina McCarthy will head a new climate policy office and John Kerry, who played a large role in brokering the Paris Agreement, will serve as global climate envoy. The US will also host a global climate summit early this year to bolster worldwide action on climate.
Big Oil is in trouble
Pension funds and schools have been pulling their money out of fossil fuel investments. And although banks have funneled $2.7 trillion into fossil fuels since the signing of the Paris Agreement in 2015, Morgan Stanley, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs, Chase, Citigroup and Bank of America have all stated that they will not finance drilling in the Arctic refuge, which Trump eagerly opened up during his last days in office.
It’s a start.
Big banks finance Big Oil. Like any business, an oil company needs cash flow to operate smoothly. If you’d like to reduce that cash flow and keep your money out of these companies, break up with your big bank—Morgan Stanley, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs, Chase, Citigroup, Bank of America and their ilk. Then go here for the 2020 fossil fuel report “Banking on Climate Change” to find someone new.
The pandemic reinforced what we cherish most
Pre-Covid, our goals may have seemed loftier—perhaps we dreamed of a promotion, a bigger home, more possessions. Ten months into lockdowns and our priorities have changed. Mostly, we long for the day when we can safely reunite with our friends and family. Covid has reminded us of the value of life’s simple—and more sustainable—pleasures.
Stay safe out there, everyone!