Blog 12.05.20

Will Covid-19 be enough to take the Stone Age from us?

Credit: SophieB

A friend makes a lot of money investing in companies that satisfy our enduring habits: smoking, drinking, gambling and blind loyalty to well-established brands.  

How many of these habits will be broken by the grand disruption of Covid-19?  And what does that mean for all those living in hope that the world in recovery will become a better place: cleaner, greener, kinder?

I ask this because, on the evidence of their Instagram feeds, the campaigning NGOs appear to be convinced that the seismic shock of the pandemic will magically transform world leaders into born-again environmentalists and thoroughly nice people. The likes of Putin, Xi, Trump, Orban and Bolsonaro will morph into Julia Ardern, the saintly leader of New Zealand.   

Some hope.

Evolutionary psychologists argue that we are hard wired to continue making my friend ever richer.  Or, as they say, you can take the person out of the Stone Age but you can’t take the Stone Age from the person.

You can see this now in the difficulty that many have with social distancing.  Joggers, often snorting and spitting, run too close. Shoppers break one-way systems, touch as much of the produce as they can, and so on.  It may be a cliché, but we are creatures of habit and it takes and awful lot to get the creature to change.  

With a massively contracted economy, insolvency a-go-go and tragically stratospheric unemployment, how many of us are seriously thinking about a greener and kinder future?  Some certainly are, like the UN chief António Guterres who this month called for a green deal recovery.  And the EU purports to be promising a green deal recovery stimulus.

But let’s be honest with ourselves, most of us are going to get out of lockdown and kill as many mammoths as we can.  We’re going to burn all the cheap oil that’s bursting out of storage, travel to boondoggles in faraway foreign lands and jump on a cruise ship for all that “free” feasting and boozing.

I remember sitting in a Business for Social Responsibility conference in 2008 during the financial crisis.  The theme of the presentation by Jeff Immelt, the then CEO of the then mighty GE, was the need for a “Reset”.  In other words, in the future to conduct business differently, more mindfully. 

Well, so much for that. We went back to doing what we always did, only with more gusto.

Our current and unprecedented crisis is magnifying the reset sentiment among the world’s do-gooders.  The big question is: will the gravity of our economic situation be enough take the Stone Age out of us?

All we can do is live in hope that it will.  Hope that our recovery will lead to a sustainable 1.5 degree future.  But as a hedge, I would suggest loading up on tobacco stocks.

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