Could Covid-19 make the world happier?
The immediate focus for policy makers as COVID-19 takes hold is to do everything they can to slow and stop the spread of the virus. That means complete lockdown and curfews in most nations around the world. Yet in the midst of the removal of basic human freedoms and economic disaster, there are lessons which can make the world a better, happier and fairer place. The most obvious silver lining is carbon emissions.
Few Chinese people will have failed to notice that the air they breathe is now significantly cleaner. The epidemic reduced China’s carbon dioxide emissions by as much as 100 million tons over two weeks. The emission of gaseous pollutant Nitrogen dioxide also dropped by 36% over the same period. Crass as it may seem, COVID-19 is teaching us that if humanity is not prepared to take drastic action to protect the planet, it will do so (and quickly) to save itself as a species.
For this brief window of time, our world is being given an opportunity to recuperate: if such a thing were possible. Under the West London Heathrow flight path (my home and office), there are zero interruptions - the sound of birds singing and church bells ringing can be heard for the first time in beautiful clarity over the North End Road. This begs the question:
When this is all over, could the world unite around the simple idea of a no-flight day once a month?
Will we finally 'get it'? Part of the answer lies in how corporates will respond. It's notable that some of the world's largest acted quickly. Google has told its employees to work from home. So too has the American energy company, Avista Corporation and the Financial Times has sent its employees away whilst it deep cleans its offices. What does this tell us? Not only were the offices of the FT probably a little bit on the dirty side but COVID-19 could turn out to be a turning point in how bosses engage with employees.
When it's all over, will the corporate world have learnt some lessons? Will they give a damn? And if not, will governments around the world come together to take the initiative and enforce change? Imagine if every office had to close for one entire day every three months? We could call it a quarterly family day.
The most important job in the world
When this is all over, could society reflect on the importance of work-life balance and family? With Mums and Dads working from home, dogs are being walked more than ever (lucky dogs) and the family unit is arguably closer than it has been in decades. I've never seen so many Dad's in the park as in recent weeks. The house is full: families are together. Could this moment even lead to a reversal in the rise of isolation, loneliness and mental health problems in western societies?
Is it possible that the traditional family unit – where parents are present, and a Mum and Dad can enjoy the gift of parenting whilst working from home once or twice a week could be re-established? Could society reflect and learn - once more - to value the toughest but most important job in the world? Parenthood.
Maybe this is pie in the sky. But, if ever there was a moment in history to dream big and fantasise about how we can all come together as one species, it is right now: in the grips of a global disaster that is holding a mirror to our faces. Imagine if maybe - just maybe - COVID-19 is pointing us in a better direction than before.
“A life worth living, and work worth doing – that is what I want for children.”
- John Holt