Ortwin Renn is scientific director at the International Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies in Potsdam and professor for environmental sociology and technology assessment at the University of Stuttgart. He has been a member of the Federal Government’s “Climate Change” research platform, and in 2019 was awarded the Order of Merit for special achievement in scientific policy advice.
Transcription of the video
There are three major changes that I can foresee as part of the consequences of the pandemic. Number one is that people feel that our societies are more vulnerable than they thought before. And then we need to invest more in societal resilience. Second, is a belief that a lot of people now have the feeling that much of what they’ve done in the past, like going to conferences, using a lot of airplanes, or doing a lot of travelling is not really necessary, when you look at the possibilities that virtual reality can actually offer to you, specifically in terms of conferencing services. And number three, I can also see that some people, not all of them, are now questioning our patterns of consumption, that they feel now that things like health and like harmony with family and solidarity are so important, that many of the other things that they have strived for, like more income or more consumption, is not as important for having a happy life. So those are the three major implications that I can see coming from the pandemic.
There are three aspects that I would like to mention. The first one is people feel that they have the capacity to deal with major constraints and major challenges. That’s not true for all people, that’s very clear, but for many. The second, I think, what we can capitalize on, is the large amount of solidarity and assistance that has been given to those who needed it the most. And at least for my country, Germany, I can see that around 70% of the population has said in recent polls, that they felt that there is more coherence, more empathy among the people with respect to the coronavirus and its impact on human health. And that this kind of increased empathy is also something that have experienced themselves, or they have given it to others. Secondly, I think that the capacity to cope with the situations that are not as easy as the ones that they had faced before, and that they now are more resourceful in terms of dealing with these kinds of challenges. And thirdly, I think there is a capacity also, to endure, even our strict measures, if people feel that that is absolutely necessary, and that it’s fair. So those two conditions are very important. They need to be seen as necessary, but also as fair, so that nobody is more to an advantage than somebody else.
Looking into the German situation, I can see that the pandemic has also increased the polarization in society and polarization in two different fields. One is that we have more violations of equity, so that people are very differently affected by the pandemic, and specifically, the poor and the less educated, less skilled, have much more to suffer than the other ones. And secondly, I think that we have seen a polarization in political views that several groups in society feel very much estranged from the political sphere. They may not feel the solidarity, but rather feel that they have been obliged to do things that they don’t want to do, and that have radicalized, at least some of the people on the far left or the far right, but also in different other areas of society.
The first important element is that we keep on communicating with those that feel estranged or that feel alienated from the measures that they feel are repressive or even anti-democratic. And there are quite a few people that have had very hard consequences to suffer as specifically people in the manufacturing businesses partially and the entertainment business specifically, but also in all kinds of leisurely activities like astronomy, or conferencing or others where a lot of people meet. And I think it’s very important that the solidarity that we have developed already, then extends to these kinds of people that suffer the most. And I think the second point is that in addition to communication, and to really give assistance to those that suffer most, we need to continue on this feeling of solidarity, and provide a political climate in which this kind of empathy and solidarity becomes a much more significant part of our social life.
In Germany, we have basically three different groups of people. One third went fairly well through the pandemic, because they were in a job position that was absolutely secured, and they could use home office for all the things that they need to do. So, they were in a very comfortable position. There’s another third of population that coped well, but they had a harder time with it. There’re, for example, small kids to take care of at the same time, or they could do only partially home office, or they were partially laid off from work, but then could be returned. So, all these people that gone through hardship, but coped with it very well. And then we have a little less than a third, that really suffered a lot and are still suffering. And I think the most important part is make sure that this last third that has suffered the most, will not bear all the costs of the pandemic. And that’s something where we are all obliged to fight to programs to help them to give them financial aid, but also to give them the needed resources so that they can also feel more empowered to help themselves.