Silver Linings Playbook: Coronavirus Edition

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We’re in the middle of a global wakeup call about the fragility of our economy in the face of pandemics, and the significant actions required to minimize harm. Loved ones are dying around the world. We’re living in social isolation, something foreign and challenging to many of us. We’re undergoing an enormous economic downturn.

But that doesn’t mean that it’s not possible to look forward and see what we’ll gain from this collective wakeup call. Some will be minor compared to the damage inflected by COVID-19, but some will be major. What are the silver linings?

The world has woken up to the structural fragility of oil and gas as an underpinning of the economy. The oil and gas sector is responsible for an enormous portion of the Dow Jones loss, much more so than other sectors. Further, it’s a vector for disease, not a vector for isolation.

It’s likely that more people will see prolonged lives due to clean air from reduction of air pollution from burning fossil fuels for transportation and energy than will die from the coronavirus.

Americans are starting to accept that collective action and sacrifice are necessary to solve global problems again. The role of government in dealing with pandemics and other global issues is coming into stark relief as the federal government does poorly at the job, leading to the United States being the leading country in global COVID-19 cases. This bodes well for addressing climate change with governmental action when the pandemic is dealt with, and as 69% of Americans already wanted governmental action on the human causes of climate change, that’s a clear next target for governmental focus.

Communication around climate change adaptation in communities that include managed retreat have found that leaning into collective war-time sacrifices for the greater good, and linking that to making sacrifices for the greater good related to climate change works. With the example of COVID-19 responses in hand, communities will be better able to work through the thickets and make the right choices sooner.

In North America, wearing a medical face mask was considered a sign of illness, while in Asia it is considered a sign of health and care for others. That’s considered part of the reason why Japan has had such a low incidence of COVID-19 despite highly dense cities with many Chinese visitors. That’s changing in North America, with more people wearing face masks on the streets with each passing day. This will have positive outcomes in the coming months of the pandemic and in the next pandemics.

The masculine handshake as an indicator of leadership strength is probably dead now. It was always a masculinity competition more than anything else, but now is recognized as a vector for disease tradition. Cultures with less touch-based greeting rituals have been better able to contain the pandemic than cultures with more touching, and the handshake and related training collateral for people trying to develop a strong one is likely dead now. I wish I could say the same for ties, which started out as reusable napkins and nose wipes draped around necks and evolved into silly status signifiers of masculine vanity, much like the handshake.

Anti-vaxxers have mostly shut up. Tolerance for them has mostly disappeared. Sites which had previously allowed them free reign to spread their harmful nonsense have de-platformed them.

Donald Trump’s likelihood of a return to the Oval Office in November 2020 diminished even further. His deeply unlikely success in 2016 was already unlikely to be repeated, but at least he was coasting on the economy Obama handed him. He was likely to lose on climate change alone, with all signs showing that Florida will flip its 29 electoral votes to the candidate with a climate action plan, not the candidate who declares it a hoax. But the coronavirus has tanked the economy he was floating on and he’s doing a terrible job of dealing with the pandemic. His lack of competence, knowledge, gravitas, and Presidential stature is burningly obvious to all but his coarsest supporters, and that will hurt him in the next election. He lost the popular vote by 2.7 million in 2016. Republicans lost the popular vote by almost 10 million and one of the Houses of Congress in the 2018 midterms. The coronavirus and Trump’s incompetent rambling, lack of accountability response to it will lead to a very sudden decline in Republican voters as they die in larger percentages due to listening to him and Fox News, and a very strong motivation on the part of non-Republicans to get him the hell out of office so that adults can run the show again.

The coronavirus is serious. Many loved ones will die. We’re responding seriously. We’ll get it under control. It will take about two years of increasing and decreasing social distancing before we have widespread vaccinations that bring herd immunity. Our global ability to deal with the next pandemic will be much stronger, and we will make the world a better place in part due to our common reaction to the pandemic.

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Michael Barnard

is a climate futurist, strategist and author. He spends his time projecting scenarios for decarbonization 40-80 years into the future. He assists multi-billion dollar investment funds and firms, executives, Boards and startups to pick wisely today. He is founder and Chief Strategist of TFIE Strategy Inc and a member of the Advisory Board of electric aviation startup FLIMAX. He hosts the Redefining Energy - Tech podcast ( , a part of the award-winning Redefining Energy team.

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