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The Promise of Decarbonization

The world before the COVID-19 pandemic was deeply dysfunctional, unstable, unfair, and ultimately unsustainable. Now that we have been shaken from our complacency, we can recognize more clearly that what's good for our future on a warming planet is also good for social and economic justice.

BRUSSELS – In David and Goliath, journalist Malcolm Gladwell identifies a dilemma that individuals and societies run into time and again. Summoning the image of an inverted U-curve, he notes that “there is a point at which money and resources stop making our lives better and start making them worse.”

The idea that “more” can lead to “less” would seem counterintuitive to the 1.6 billion people who may have lost their livelihoods as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet it is the obsession with returning to “normal” that should be viewed most skeptically. The system that brought us to this point was highly abnormal by any reasonable standard. It has been undermining our health, exhausting our natural resources, destroying plant and animal species, and heating up the planet, all to benefit a shrinking minority at the expense of everyone else.

This deeply unbalanced system has now brought us close to the breaking point, after years of grappling with climate change, biodiversity loss, rising inequality, and other escalating crises. It should come as no surprise that these problems have all converged during the pandemic, given that they are closely intertwined. The good news is that so, too, are the solutions.