Coronavirus, the environment and urban life

However, post-corona is as yet an indistinct concept, too hazy to consider, especially as we are barely managing to cope with the storm of the pandemic as it rages.”

Restaurant in Israel (photo credit: Courtesy)
Restaurant in Israel
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Former Jerusalem deputy mayor Naomi Tsur is today the executive chair of the Jerusalem Green Fund and chair of the Israel Urban Forum, both of which aim to find ways to preserve our environment in the face of necessary urban growth.
In these anxious days of the coronavirus pandemic, Tsur, who served under former mayor Nir Barkat, has some important things to say. First, she believes that despite the present confusion and high levels of anxiety, the environment and green sustainable growth remain important to all of us.
“Many of us have a gut feeling that beyond the immediate and severe impact of the global coronavirus pandemic, there will need to be a game-changing restructuring of our systems in the period that follows,” she said. “However, post-corona is as yet an indistinct concept, too hazy to consider, especially as we are barely managing to cope with the storm of the pandemic as it rages.”
Mentioning the inherent contradictions with which we currently have to live – like the need to pull together while we’ve been instructed to observe strict social distancing – Tsur also noted that the current shutdown “throws the whole country into [facing] severely challenging economic issues.”
However, she added her belief that the main shift in the post-corona age will have to be in our economic thinking and planning.
“When Adam Smith wrote his famous treatise, The Wealth of Nations, published in 1776, he laid the foundations of modern economic thinking,” Tsur said. “He could not have been expected, nor did he take into account that 250 years later the world’s population would have reached its current size, and that there would be a serious danger that global resources would no longer be sufficient to provide food, water, energy and other needs for the ever-spiraling numbers.
“Economics students are taught that the economy is healthy when there is growth. However, as early as the mid-twentieth century, some economic thinkers were already pointing out that growth cannot go on forever, especially if we take into account the dwindling resources of a finite planet. So we currently live in a world where we have to over-consume in order to maintain a healthy economy. Yet we must live modestly and consume mindfully if we are to enable our planet to continue to support human life.”
Tsur said the pandemic is primarily an equalizer, since it does not make any distinction between different economic classes, religions or races. And the virus has proven to be no respecter of borders. Many countries are now maintaining only essential services. As a result, a tremendous drop in pollution has been marked worldwide.
“On the other hand,” continued Tsur, “we are paying a heavy economic price. There is a genuine spirit of community support, but a real danger that elderly people living in physical isolation might develop depression and anxiety.”
Some of Tsur’s conclusions are cause for optimism. At the same time, the crisis requires a reassessment of many things we have taken for granted for very long. Nonetheless, she feels the post-corona era should be a source of hope, as we strive for a better world in which economic security does not go hand in hand with the over-taxing of our natural, finite resources.
“Can we repair our world by basing our economic planning on an equitable and sustainable system? If we do,” Tsur opined, “we may look back on the coronavirus as the chance we were given to rethink our world, something we would have been much less likely to do if we had continued with business as usual.