What kind of normality do you wish to go back to?

The COVID-19 crisis demands that we all act now. To learn from the current situation, we created El Día Después (The Day After), a digital, open, collective platform.

In this first conversation, four experts analyze the news and imagine the day after: Cristina Monge, political analyst for El País, Cadena SER and Infolibre; Rafael Vilasanjuán, director of the ISGlobal Global Analysis and Development Department; Fernando Valladares, researcher at the CSIC and José Moisés Martín, economist and CEO of Red2Red.

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What kind of normality do you wish to go back to?

Francisco Javier Sancho Mas

When the Coronavirus emergency is over, what kind of normality do you wish to go back to? To a health system like the current one? To the same level of climate emergency? To a similar governance model? To the same structures of political and social action? To this economic model?

If the answer is no, then what other normality do we want to start building from today? On 25th March 2020, the discussion platform El Día Después was launched with experts from different sectors. At 4 p.m., there were almost 2000 people from 30 countries connected to the open forum to reflect, learn and anticipate what the future may hold.

We do not want to go back to the “normality” that has brought us to here.

Fernando Valladares

Leire Pajín, president of the Spanish Network for Sustainable Development, moderated the dialogue. Participants included: Cristina Monge, political analyst for El País, Cadena SER and Infolibre; Rafael Vilasanjuán, director of the Analysis and Global Development Department of Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal); Fernando Valladares, researcher of the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC); José Moisés Martín, economist and CEO of Red2Red.

The first glance went to the most immediate and current topic: health; life. It was an afternoon full of upsetting data. Many infected people and deaths steepened the curve of the virus. Yet our proposal was to not only confine ourselves or close our eyes or keep going. Our intention was to envisage, without losing the ability to reflect, while we suffered. And to dare to imagine of a new normality.

Today’s analysis 

GLOBAL HEALTH

The representative of ISGlobal highlighted that we are faced with the biggest challenge of our generation since WWII. And the analysis of the situation must be based on learning and not accusing. 

“The threat existed”. This is the first thing Vilasanjuán wanted to highlight. Regarding how we reached this point in terms of global health, he reminded us that during the 70s it was thought that all infectious diseases could be eradicated, in the wealthy world at least. That idea disappeared in the 80s with the AIDS outbreak, and later with other epidemics, such as SARS and Ebola. They were signs of an idling crisis.

We are now more aware of the fact that the health system is not only an equality factor, but a security factor too.

Rafael Vilasanjuan

“Idling crises do not mobilize society en masse. That is achieved by sudden crises like this one”, he said.  And he gave another example similar to the idling crisis interrelated with the health crisis: climate emergency. A phenomenon that has caused devastating effects, but has not yet mobilized us to rise to the challenge. 

The already visible effects for science that this pandemic has had, is that responses are quicker. Never has so much been published in such a short time on health.

CLIMATE

The CSIC researcher defended the need to gather all sectors of society to face the climate emergency, because “some still believe the environment is something frivolous”.

This crisis should make us change our mentality. We are used to considering the environment as a passive receiver of the effects we generate.  Now we are the receivers of the abnormalities of nature.  

The alteration of our relationship with ecosystems generates unpredictable adverse effects on our health. Valladares mentioned, for example, that the waves of desert dust in Spain and Italy have caused a greater number of respiratory problems and have made us more vulnerable to the virus. As he described, nature works by precisely assembling pieces. If one of the pieces is missing or removed, we face serious problems, such as being exposed to abnormal viral loads.

The environment is not a drain for waste, but rather an investment for our health.

Fernando Valladares

“Nothing. No State, no one, can substitute the protective role of biodiversity against threats, such as a viral pandemic”.  The WHO already warns us that the next one may be worse than this one, said the researcher. 

Finally, Valladares wished to recall that for more than 10 years it has been observed that nature “has already lost its ability to cushion and dilute our disasters”.

SOCIETY AND POLITICS

Three characteristics were observed on the effects on a social level that already occur throughout the COVID-19 crisis.  

“First: uncertainty”. This is something that western countries do not deal with very well.  And we must prepare ourselves because scientists warn us that pandemics like this could be more recurrent, Monge said.  

Second: Our rediscovery as social and interdependent beings. And therefore, also, of our own vulnerability. 

We have gone from being spectators of dystopian stories to protagonists of them. And we do not know what to do.

Cristina Monge

Third: Interconnection requires more protective networks, as, for example, in our computer communications. This is key to not live in permanent fear. The attempted attack on the computer system of the public hospital network during this epidemic is something that could have had devastating consequences.

ECONOMY

The economist warned that there is not just one problem regarding accessing work. Today the majority of children are studying with online applications while confined at home. Yet, “what happens if your house does not have an internet connection or you do not have a computer with enough space? This is creating a new inequality within the inequality left behind from the previous crisis”. 

Since 2008, we have not been able to change the model, Martín stated, due to the fragile Spanish economic system. A virus is capable of collapsing the economy. A relevant piece of information: during the whole 2008 crisis, the Spanish economy fell 8 points. However, this year there are estimations of a decrease of more than 9 points. “Although we will most likely bounce back quicker”, Martín indicated. 

The virus crisis adds inequality to the inequality that already existed since 2008.

José Moisés Martín

Proposals for El Día Después. 

FROM A GLOBAL HEALTH PERSPECTIVE

“Countries cannot solve global problems alone. The most urgent challenges must be addressed globally”, said Rafa Vilasanjuán. The environment, health, mobility, demography, just to name a few, are everyone’s business. 

Improving the connection between scientific evidence and decision-makers to anticipate crises, such as the current one, is another essential aspect by promoting consensus that goes beyond political interest.7

And the hugs of El Día Después

In the introduction to the debate, Mónica Oviedo, who is in charge of sustainability at Iberdrola, warned that the alliance that promotes this event has the challenge of accelerating compliance with the commitments of the 2030 Agenda. “But the crisis from this virus forces us to have an unavoidable transformation”.

Furthermore, Carlos Mataix, director of the Innovation and Technology for Development Centre, a promotion organization of the network, noted that the measures that are being taken to protect us from the virus will have long-lasting effects in the future. He hopes they will be sustainable and inclusive.

This is why this platform is open to everyone to make the values a reality. “We invite scientists and academics, companies, public institutions and civil society. They are all necessary”.  And it will also connect with similar initiatives in other countries. “We want to take advantage of collective intelligence to find a forum that continues to function once we leave our homes”. 

During Fernando Valladares’ intervention, he spoke about hugs. He recalled that the future will involve hugs, yes. “But they will not just be because we overcame the pandemic, but because we will have strengthened the mechanisms that protect us from the next one”, he concludes.  

“Our society changes when it is closely affected by something”, said Vilasanjuán. In terms of a change in behaviour, all sciences, including social sciences and humanities, must interact and be strengthened. There is not one mathematical model that changes the behaviour of societies. We are moved by what moves us. 

FROM A CLIMATE EMERGENCY PERSPECTIVE

“The SDGs are a good tool, although they need to be adjusted. There is nothing more global than the environment”, Valladares stated, who also introduced the question about what normality we wish to return to. “I do not want to go back to the normality that has destroyed the environment”. Three aspects were highlighted in this sense: 

  • Green infrastructure.
  • Ecological restoration.
  • Renewable energies. 

He concluded with a recommendation: review some issues honestly, in line with the last point about the energy model. How is it possible that in a country like Spain solar energy infrastructure and generation is not implemented?

FROM AN ECONOMIC PERSPECTIVE

José Moisés Martín emphasized that the path to a new economic policy model surely brings down some dogmas, such as fear of deficit. There will be no other way to alleviate the economic and social impact of this crisis. He pointed out several aspects that this new model should focus on in the future: 

  1. Main element: fighting against inequality.
  2. Sustainability. The monster of climate change will still be there when all of this is over. It should make us redesign our productive system.
  3. Resilience. Make “anti-fragile” economies.
  4. Redefine the relationship between urban and rural areas. How long can cities last without food supplies? How can resilient chains be maintained?
  5. A step forward towards a global economic governance. The last great economic cooperation alliance was Bretton Woods, over 80 years ago. 
  6. Accelerate the change of business models. The beginning of this change was observed last year in Davos. The only objective of the companies is to no longer generate value and profit for the shareholder. If companies do not contribute to and become involved in social change, or in promoting biodiversity, the market itself will drive them out. 

FROM A POLITICAL AND SOCIAL PERSPECTIVE

Cristina Monge observes a change that is already taking place in the thousands of social and citizen initiatives to lend a hand that have emerged as a result of the crisis. “Yet again, we can see that societies react in times of struggle”. 

A positive thing is that there is nothing written for situations like these. This opens the opportunity to create new initiatives to find solutions.

Redefining security is another one of the great aspects to be taken into account. Security that does not just depend on the police and the army, but on resilience mechanisms and reducing inequality. This also influences security. 

Deindustrialization leads us to buying from further away what we no longer produce here. If we diversify our economy and industrial development, we will have more capacity to defend ourselves in a crisis.  

Remodelling the community. Schools reduce inequalities. However, children have to spend longer at home with their families, they cannot suffer a great gap. We must work towards reducing inequalities in families and communities.

FROM A GLOBAL GOVERNANCE MODEL PERSPECTIVE

When faced with one of the most recurrent questions from the participants, all the experts agreed on key issues: 

  • The tools that our grandparents created after WWII are no longer useful. We must think of others and give them decision-making power, such as the UN, for example, so that States do not just act independently.
  • A new governance means sharing more, with an interconnected and collaborative perspective. And the fact that it is global means it belongs to everyone, not just one person in particular.
  • Resist the temptation of a nationalist approach in terms of global challenges.
  • The complexity of problems requires bringing all the knowledge and disciplines together to create knowledge, opinions and influence.
  • The SDGs as a roadmap in which our local and global spheres participate. It is everyone’s challenge. 
Panel

JOSÉ MOISÉS MARTÍN

Key messeges

Faced with a health crisis of these characteristics, States are no longer the ones who can exclusively make decisions; we have to build global mechanisms of action (Rafael Vilasanjuan)

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We need to redefine the concepto of security to move towards more resilient societies (Cristina Monge)

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Inequality must be at the center of economic policy the day after (José Moisés Martín)

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The real success the day after will be that there are no pandemics and for this, the protective role of nature is essential (Fernando Valladares)

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