In the past few weeks, we have seen changes in society that would have been unthinkable just last year. The coronavirus pandemic has trapped us indoors, deprived us of our normal routines, and unleashed a global economic catastrophe not seen since the second world war. This crisis has reshaped how we think about ourselves, rapidly transformed our values, and Suddenly, we are under siege from the stark reality of our immediate survival.

Even though our instincts and political leaders might be saying otherwise, it is more important than ever in this emergency to take the long view. If there was ever a moment to think about the future, it’s now.

The has plunged the world headfirst into an era of unity, solidarity, and rapid societal change that looks like a compressed version of We are part of a living ecosystem, and if we push it too far,

Looking around us, we can clearly see some of the cracks in society. We now know the status quo has failed. argues climate justice writer Mary Annaïse Heglar. We are in mourning for a familiar world that has suddenly vanished. The old world is not coming back. There is It’s a moment of triage for the entire planet.

Black and white composite of a profusion of areal views of empty parking lots on a black background.
144 empty parking lots, from the project Satellite Collections by Jenny Odell

Our twofold task

There are striking parallels between this short-term fight against Covid-19 and the long-term fight for a stable climate. Most importantly: we know what the solutions are, we know that the solutions will work, and we know they must take place on an enormous scale. Our actions from this point will require a more compassionate, caring, equal, and just global society – if for any other reason than sheer survival.

Our task in this moment is twofold: we have to urgently prevent social and economic collapse and build a new world at the same time. If we trust scientists, on climate and coronavirus, both of those are equally important.

What we do now will not only alter the course of this pandemic; it will also shape large parts of our collective futures. Restoring the status quo shouldn’t be our goal. to ensure a more stable and prosperous society going forward. 

Arrangement of several aerial views of container ships on a white background.
100 container ships, from the project Satellite Collections by Jenny Odell

The Jurassic Park problem

The hardest truth is realising that this crisis is going to get a lot worse before it gets better. Among friends, I’m referring to this as the Jurassic Park problem. In the movie, one of the main characters a system that was never meant to be powered down. When they switch it back on, chaos ensues, the dinosaurs escape, and we realise that when fragile systems break, they can break quickly. 

With we are foolish to think we can bring our entire economy back online as it was with no problems. We have to create a new system.

Governments have already pledged trillions of dollars in emergency funding to battle the coronavirus pandemic, and those plans are quickly becoming reality. In India, currently home to the largest and strictest lockdown in the world, leaders have announced which amounts to less than $20 for each of its 1.3 billion citizens. In the US, including one of the world’s largest defence contractors, which has spent years funnelling taxpayer money to prop up its own share price. Almost immediately afterwards, US lawmakers have gotten to work on plans to free up

In the EU, Germany has to lift its national debt limit to fund a bailout for corporations. The tourism-dependent Caribbean has spent decades cultivating an economy catering to the whims of rich travelers. The cruise line industry is but how much of that will make its way to workers in the Bahamas or Jamaica? Italy and Spain have so far seen the worst of the pandemic and are also highly dependent on tourism revenue. With global air travel all but shut down, If either country collapses, it could send  

For the most part, all this money isn’t just a stimulus or a bailout – it’s life support for the status quo. 

Arrangement of several cylindric shapes with some expelling smoke, on a light blue background.
97 nuclear cooling towers, from the project Satellite Collections by Jenny Odell

Three steps to recover from this crisis

Ending the Covid-19 pandemic isn’t just about saving lives and getting back to normal. Ending the climate emergency is not just about reducing emissions.

What would that collective response look like?

In the US, the pandemic has refocused the conversation on what kind of social safety nets our current system has been missing, and what kind of system we might be able to build to replace the (failed) privatised-capitalist one that treats workers as machines. Thinking of healthcare, housing, jobs, and a stable environment as universal rights – and the main organising principles of society, instead of profit-making – is a much more stable way of building an economy.

We cannot be satisfied with coronavirus recovery plans that only allow us to survive. We must also demand plans that will help us thrive. We must be forward-thinking, not reactionary.

Arrangement in a circle of many shapes in tones of grey, turquoise, grey, brown, black, mother of pearl and green showing various textures.
77 waste and salt ponds, from the project Satellite Collections by Jenny Odell

Here are three important steps we could take to inject long-term thinking into our short-term crisis recovery:

Nationalise the fossil fuel and airline industries

The collapse in oil prices has created a remarkable opportunity to end the climate emergency. The fossil fuel industry has spent decades sabotaging the planet’s life support system and building a fragile global economic system that’s now at risk of collapse. Governments such as oil companies, airlines, and cruise lines, and repurpose them for a zero-carbon future. As a majority shareholder, we – the taxpayers who would own these companies – could force them to become non-profit entities and rapidly advance their progress investing in renewable energy, electric airplanes, passenger rail, and other forms of low-carbon travel. 

Even while fending off coronavirus, Italy With oil prices plunging, a controlling stake in the world’s five largest oil companies – Shell, BP, ExxonMobil, Chevron, and Total – could be purchased compared to about twice that at the start of 2020. If that happened, we could wind down their operations in line with science-based climate targets and justice for their workers.

Series of various shapes composed of tiny colourful rectangles on a white background.
Shipping containers, from the project Satellite Collections by Jenny Odell

Public works projects on an enormous scope and scale

Dollar-for-dollar, investment in large building projects is one of but we need to cast a wide net and make sure everyone has a chance to participate in the new economy. With long-term interest rates less than 1% right now there’s virtually an unlimited amount of money available for public works projects that could help create the carbon-free economy we all need.

A group of academics for how this money could be spent, including retrofitting every building, no-interest loans for cities to build new sewer systems, and funding farmers to practise regenerative agriculture. The ideas have already been endorsed by hundreds of experts  The main idea in their proposals is that this new infrastructure money absolutely must not be spent on building roads and airports that will reinforce the failed fossil fuel economy, but instead on building the kind of infrastructure that will power the world for the rest of the century.

And with unemployment rates surging, this is a perfect time to put people to work in large-scale infrastructure projects. Investing in a green stimulus plan would be a source of for less than half of the cost of this week’s US bailout plan.

Black and white image of several organic shapes, in various shades of grey, showing lines and curves, arranged in a circle.
39 landfills, from the project Satellite Collections by Jenny Odell

Strengthen social safety nets

Last year, it was unthinkable that the US would institute a universal basic income anytime soon. Now, it’s on the verge of becoming a reality. 

After Andrew Yang, a presidential contender, brought the idea into the mainstream in the US, many politicians, including Donald Trump,

The next step will be declaring other necessities such as healthcare, housing, and jobs as a human right. These are core parts of the framework for climate policy, and the coronavirus crisis has proven they’re not out of reach in the near term.

The establishment of a society that cares about will be the key to solving this crisis the right way. The Great Depression led to If we do this right, we’ll create a world that’s more resilient to future disasters because we have our power supply and

Reluctance to these ideas only exists because But in the past few days, we’ve shut down a huge portion of society out of solidarity for each other to save each other’s lives. What more good are we capable of?

Circle shaped image, on a white background, composed of various tiny circular shapes in white, grey, black and green shades.
964 round parts of wastewater treatment plants, from the project Satellite Collections by Jenny Odell
About the images Projects by artist Jenny Odell always seem to be extensive – you might even say obsessive. Like The Bureau of Suspended Objects, for which she made a searchable online archive of 200 objects salvaged from the San Francisco dump, each with photographs and painstaking research into its material, corporate, and manufacturing histories.

The images with this article, from the series Satellite Collections, are collections of cutouts from Google Satellite View – like parking lots, silos, landfills, waste ponds. They almost look like hieroglyphs. Seen from above, these structures clearly state: people were here. (Lise Straatsma, image editor)
See more work by Jenny Odell

Dig deeper

Illustration: a rectangle purple piece of graph paper with dotted lines dividing into squares is suspended against a black background. There is a zig zag resembling a stock market downwards drop on this graph which gets deeper and bigger and leaks into the black background, and three orange plasters are trying to keep it patched together (the paper appears torn); one plaster is flying off the side. By Leon de Korte Illustration: a rectangle purple piece of graph paper with dotted lines dividing into squares is suspended against a black background. There is a zig zag resembling a stock market downwards drop on this graph which gets deeper and bigger and leaks into the black background, and three orange plasters are trying to keep it patched together (the paper appears torn); one plaster is flying off the side. By Leon de Korte We failed to fix a broken system after the 2008 financial crisis. Let’s not make the same mistake now After the 2008 financial crisis, governments used short-term solutions on a fundamentally flawed system. If we want to avoid the same thing happening with the coronavirus pandemic, now is the time to push for radically reforming society.

Read Nesrine Malik’s article here