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After the Pandemic: Will Sustainability be Possible?

The CORVID-19 pandemic and shutdown have motivated many to reflect on what might be learned about developing a broader social strategy for moving toward a more sustainable civilization. What we have known in the abstract is now being revealed in its materiality: the dependence of modern economies on consumer consumption (65-70%+) is significantly a means of recirculating (not redistributing) money from leisure-based activities from higher- to lower-income members of society. 

For example, the vast numbers of people employed in the food service industry (restaurants, cafes, etc.) are paid only by virtue of those who purchase food and drink in or from such establishments.  Ultimately, as well, automation of both service and white-collar work (including educators) might well undermine this circle of (what?) compensation, as even higher-income classes are made “redundant” (polite British term for being laid off). This suggests it may be necessary to look more closely at basic income programs in the future, especially if consumption does not return to its pre-pandemic levels.

At the same time, we have also seen a considerable reduction in various forms of pollution, auto traffic and other environmental impacts (although not as much as the IPCC tells use is required), which seems to confirm the hunch that responding to climate change will require significant reductions in consumption and economies (and “green growth” from a much lower baseline). 

There has also been a considerable amount of commentary on capitalism and the coronavirus, much of it is very much spur of the moment and not terribly analytical or deep.  When–and if–the world is able to return to “normality,” will that be a simple restoration of a global capitalist economy, something more akin to the neomercantilism of the 1930s, or a radical transformation in keeping with the longer term crisis of climate changing? And what might be required to accomplish the last?

On this page, SSRF is offering both links and articles of interest and, we hope, value. If you, dear reader, stumble upon thoughtful and provocative commentary and analysis, please let us know at sustainablesystemsresearch@gmail.com.

Bruno Latour, “What protective measures can you think of so we don’t go back to the pre-crisis production model?”

Chuang Group (2020) “Social Contagion: Microbiological Class War in China”.     

David Ruccio, “Unemployment Pandemic” Real-World Economic Review Blog (March 23, 2020).     

Walden Bello, “Coronavirus and the Death of ‘Connectivity.”

David Harvey, “Anti-Capitalist Politics in the Time of COVID-19,” Jacobin

Article collections

One Question: COVID-19 and Capitalism

+COVID-19: Left Perspectives