During these past months of Covid-19 Lockdown there has been a growth in media commentary about how, some day, the Irish economy and business model will return to normal, when the virus is brought under some measure of control.
Insider believes there should be no return to ‘business as usual’ and most of us know what is really needed is a ‘New Normal,’ leading to a different, more secure, way of humane living.
In these surreal times, the lengthy hiatus caused by Covid-19 gave us all the great gift of time to sit, evaluate, and reconsider what is most important to us. Perhaps the tragic loss of so many elderly citizens, family siblings, healthcare heroes, or our children’s future education, even lost shopping opportunities, as we slowed down to reconnect with nature. This is what also gave us the opportunity to seek answers for a new way forward.
At the height of the crisis we woke up hearing birdsong that was not drowned out by noise of traffic. Though in Galway traffic is said to be already building back up to former levels, it is hard to know where everyone is going just yet. A newly heightened sense of awareness was palpable and could be seen through different manifestations of community collective and individual efforts, and many heartwarming gestures were observed through our daily lives.
Many saw this crisis as an opportunity that necessitates careful consideration and planning towards the creation of a world better than the one left behind when lockdown arrived. This new future could be our 'New Normal'. Understanding how we managed to get here in the first place is paramount to stopping further crises of this nature from unfolding.
Increasing the pressure on global food systems
While some challenges ahead cannot be prevented, they can certainly be minimised or even managed, to ensure the best possible outcome for both humankind and for the planet. Why I say this is because scientists tell us a novel virus is likely to happen again, and again, such as if we continue increasing the pressure on global food systems.
We have a capital-led, and highly industrialised, agricultural model. The latest predictions from the United Nations project an increase of four billion people living, some barely existing, on our planet by the year 2100, bringing us beyond an 11 Billion world population.
'Current agricultural practices will ensure the next Covid virus could perhaps be even worse'
High consumption levels, driven by economic growth put the biggest pressures on the planet’s resources. Furthermore, increases in affluence in countries like Ireland, and in developing countries, have prompted a rise in consumption levels and changes in dietary trends that drive a higher demand for producing meat and dairy products.
Therefore, significant increases in food production will need to be implemented if the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal “to eradicate hunger” is to be met. It is, however, not increasing demand for food that will exacerbate the rise of infectious disease but the way our current food system operates, and the means within which we make such output possible.
In Ireland, the previous Fine Gael led, Fianna Fáil supported government, supported this way of thinking and producing by encouraging increased milk production and increasing beef sales to China, etc. Current agricultural practices (ie, the destruction of ecosystems in the Amazon Basin and far eastern jungle clearances for Palm Oil cultivation, with consequent loss of wildlife as well, as imposed genetic monoculture practices ) will no doubt continue to increase contact rates between humans, livestock and wild animals. Such practices will ensure the next Covid virus could perhaps be even worse.
Unsustainable development patterns were predicted
At times like this, Insider remembers the late Richard Douthwaite, an environmental campaigner, economist, and author (who sadly died in November 20011 ). Richard wrote several books one of which, The Growth Illusion – How Economic Growth Enriched The Few, Impoverished The Many, and Endangered The Planet (Lilliput 1992 ) – reminds us that while many people bought into a life of consumption, and businesses promote continuous economic growth, there is a price to pay for engaging in such unsustainable lifestyles.
'Climate change magnifies interactions that result in emerging infectious diseases already fostered by environmental perturbation from agricultural activity'
Douthwaite's book preceded the Celtic-Tiger era and its resultant financial breakdown, but predicted the crisis which resulted and really its title says it all. Not much has changed as most of us today could name those who profited then, and recognise just how many of them made it through crisis only to rise again with new property deals. Only this time around we are seeing much more mobile international finance being invested in Irish property values! Foreign pension funds and Residential Investment Trusts abound, and are seeing this in Galway too, if you hadn’t noticed!
Richard had already co-founded the thinktank Feasta in 1998 (the Foundation for the Economics of Sustainability ) to promote sustainability by designing better systems, on the basis that many global problems are "caused not by bad people but by dysfunctional systems". Insider, met Douthwaite almost 30 years ago in Galway and learned a lot from this most decent of men.
Climate change has not gone away
Climate change magnifies interactions that result in emerging infectious diseases already fostered by environmental perturbation from agricultural activity. At the same time, agricultural activity, particularly from the meat and dairy industry, disproportionately contributes to the climate crisis itself. We perhaps need to modify our diets and think of the air miles our foodstuffs and raw ingredients have to travel to get to our supermarkets, both at home and to our customers abroad.
'Insider has always supported a Gluas style city-wide Light Rail Network. Its main depot could be built at the former Carnmore airstrip with park and ride facilities included'
A recent Friends of the Earth poll showed that 90 per cent of Irish people surveyed think the Government should be guided by science and expert advice on climate action, as they have been by COVID-19, while 71 per cent think the Government will be failing the people of Ireland if it does not act now to help combat climate change.
The last Government failed to reduce climate polluting emissions during its four-year term. Vested interests were heard louder than the people of Ireland. Insider believes we cannot let that happen again. We are now urgently in need of a Government that will act for faster and fairer climate action.
Finally, Insider has always supported a Gluas style city-wide Light Rail Network, where its main depot could be built on lands in public ownership at the former Carnmore airstrip - with park and ride facilities included to service commuters coming in off the motorway. This would allow a more sustainable climate and healthy, sensible, use of energy resources.
We urgently need to have both city and county councils co-operate, as they do in Limerick, to apply for EIB loans to help support and to convince Dublin based Transport Infrastructure Ireland civil servants, to commission an independent cost benefit analysis, as was once promised by former Transport Minister Shane Ross, and not listen to any economists who fail to understand Galway's own very particular traffic management and growth in spatial planning problems.