by Wim Elving
Professor of Sustainable Communication
Hanze University of Applied Sciences, Groningen, the Netherlands

Cartoon Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Wednesday March 11, 2020

The second COVID-19 wave is here, at least in the Netherlands, and what I understood in several other countries as well. This is devastating, despite the good behaviour of many with social distancing, hand washing and other behavioral and social restrictions.

Covid-19 brought also unexpected results, we finally (had to) adopt video calls, work from home (WFH) and because of that we limited the emissions of greenhouse gasses immensely. Suddenly, we experienced cleaner air, and did we have views that were not visible for 30 years because of air pollution, as the picture below from India shows.

View on the Himalaya (Twitter, @Deewalia, Diksha Walia, April 3rd, 2020)

The emission of greenhouse gasses decreased significantly and suddenly the goals from the Paris accord seems to be within reach, where we thought these were already out of sight.

2020 ironically also is the celebration of 50 years of the Friedman doctrine on shareholder value. We have seen many opposing theories and insights in its 50 years of existence, but shareholder value still is big. Companies do not always care about stakeholders, but only care about their owners and investors. This seems to be old-fashioned thinking in management, fossil thinking, and we do need to quit fossil fuels as fossil thinking, to change the world for better. Will 2020 be the turning year where we finally bury the shareholder model? Will we finally see more organizations that put more value in stakeholders and find their purpose for society instead of only working on maximizing their shareholder value. Though there are some positive signs, we still see many old fashioned, organizations, not surprisingly many of them related to the fossil industry.

Ironically some of the top 5 companies in the oil and gas industry claimed that they support the new European EU Green Deal, but almost on the same day start digging for oil in very vulnerable nature settings like Alaska or use very polluting fracking techniques. The big 5 oil companies still invest more in lobbying against climate change, then they are investing in renewable energy. They sure want to look responsible and green, but still have not change their business significantly.

What covid-19 also taught us also that, closer to our own home, the meat industry is using low wage labor immigrants to do the hard work. To be able to produce meat and chicken and real low prizes, immigrants from eastern Europe work in these factories for low wages and sometimes really bad working conditions. We can change that ourselves by raising the question whether this cheap meat is really necessary to be part of our meals.

Work from home has had some real challenges, we especially miss the social interaction with colleagues, and we even miss the bad jokes. But we realized as well that we seemed crazy before corona hit us so hard. We travelled for several hours for a meeting, which can be done with a videocall. I know, not all meetings with video calls are perfect and sometimes we need the creativity and inspiration from face-to-face meetings, but many of them could easily be done with a video call, and some of these calls more efficient than the old-fashioned meetings.

Covid-19 taught us also that that a real crisis can lead to immediate action, though differences between countries are obvious. We do need however apply this urgency to climate change as soon as possible. Why don’t we start campaigns to drive fewer fossil kilometers/miles. Why don’t we persuade people to use a plane only if we do need to and raise ticket prices for each extra flight per time period. This is the big challenge for us in communications, how can we create campaigns and communications on the urgency of climate change and limit the worlds carbon footprint. How do we persuade consumers to include meat on their menu only for once a week or less? Corona taught us that communication is vital, let’s all help to reduce our emission of greenhouse gasses drastically, or our children and grandchildren will not have perspectives on a way of life like we had.

There is always a reason not to take personal action, but we really don’t have time to hesitate any longer. Drastic measures, such as the lockdown of the coronavirus showed us, that we can reduce greenhouse gasses, lets use this moment for real climate action and take advantage of the terrible pandemic with a clear path to climate action. We have no time to waste!