by Katharina Kohse-Höinghaus, Department of Chemistry, Bielefeld University, Germany
Questioned how the Covid-19 pandemic will impact the future, especially regarding science and academic culture, I find myself constantly re-aligning my thoughts along with progressing developments. The question itself appears somewhat premature, since the nature of a new equilibrium – should there be such a state at all – and pathways towards it remain quite unpredictable. To watch conditions change, globally, in just a few weeks has been interesting and
worrisome. Correspondingly, I assume for the state transition from before to after Covid-19 that surprises might be encountered along the way.
The crisis has been described widely as the most disruptive global experience since decades, with severe medical, ethical, economic, political, juridical, psychological, further social and other consequences. The situation also depends sensitively on the local circumstances. A rather personal view may thus be the only valid perspective. You may have guessed from the above terminology that I am a natural scientist (indeed, a senior professor of physical chemistry); this certainly influences my view. I will present my current thoughts in five brief paragraphs.
• Scientific contributions
In the past weeks, it appeared that science, all of a sudden, was publicly recognized – not as nice-to-have cultural accessory, but as systemically relevant. Science was and remains omnipresent in reports about infections and their spread, scenarios and probabilities, health conditions, test functionalities, potential medication, and vaccine developments. With unusual depth, politics and media request scientific reports and updates, and facts and figures as well as background explanations are sometimes reported by the hour. Equally impressive is the international level of activity and collaboration regarding the disease and measures against it. I cannot remember a period in which scientific activity seemed so important. Science is needed to fight the pandemic, obviously, and to explain processes and precautions. Biomedical contributions have been more prominently in the spotlight, but other disciplines are also concerned with various aspects of the massive impact of the pandemic.
It is a situation for multidisciplinary, creative thinking, not only for inspecting immediate problems and possible reactions. How do we wish to live in the future? How to establish precautions that the present situation might not become repetitive? The crisis has illustrated many influences that might not have been regarded in context. Now accepted views and business-as-usual routines could be reflected. New concepts and bold ideas could constructively challenge established thoughts about global interactions, production and logistics, work, healthcare, social systems, mobility and other factors. Scientists could be the group that might develop perspectives and become a driving force.
• Sustainable transport and production
Transportation and production have been challenged with disruptive changes. With traffic between countries stopped, airplanes on the ground, and people working from home, air quality has improved and energy use decreased. Economy, prosperity, timely production, and delivery of goods have dominated public debates, rather than measures to plan more sustainable action for the future. A consequence of the current crisis regarding transport specifically might be a different split between air, land, and sea transportation, a different mix between transport of passengers and goods. Foremost, however, a different balance of economic versus ecologic aspects would be desirable.
Climate and pollution crises have not gone away. Health concerns and shutdown of regular operations in many countries are causing gigantic economic burdens. Warning signs regarding climate change and environmental threats have currently sunken in priority, with media attending mainly to the Covid-19 crisis topic. Gigantic support plans for the economy could present welcome chances for innovative pathways towards more sustainable industries and transport options. Natural sciences and technical disciplines are well positioned to address such pathways, together with their colleagues in other fields.Continue reading “Lessons learned? – Learning lessons!”