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Post-pandemic, reduced consumption will change our lives?

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Consumption is likely to drop in the new normal, so what lifestyle habits will we drop and what will we take along for the journey ahead? Sonia Randhawa reflects. 

When I was a young, naive journalist, my editor told me I should never start a story with a question or a cliche. But now (with my first uncliched sentence firmly in place), I can safely ask, what are the most important things you want to maintain after the coronavirus crisis is over?

I’ve been reflecting on the importance of tea to my daily life, rituals and sanity.

Recently I heard that Britons’ thirst for tea drove colonialism.   The need to find goods to trade with China, so that the imperial teapot was never emptied meant Britain established colonies and trading posts across the world. All for a decent cuppa.

I get it. It’s the only explanation for the system that I really feel in my bones as making some sort of sense. There’s not much I wouldn’t do for that first cup of tea in the morning – and an entire nation of (well-armed) people driven by that sort of desperation… I get it.

But tea production is under threat. The lockdown in India means there is less tea – and more demand – as coronavirus hits. Production could fall by 9%.  And there is a drought in Sri Lanka, where the tea I tend to drink comes from. Could civilisation as we know it survive without tea? I don’t want to find out.

However, there is far more (I’ve heard) to the impact of coronavirus than its impact on my favourite beverage. Less air travel, possibly less car travel, possibly more car travel (as people shy away from public transport) and less of, well, just about everything. 

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Fewer people at work means less stuff is being produced. Fewer people with a job means less stuff is being consumed. This drop in consumption isn’t necessarily a bad thing (unless… tea).

We’ve known for several decades that consumption had to fall. Even if we miraculously make the transition to a renewable economy, fuelled by sources other than fossil, it’s going to look, feel and, oh please, smell very different than the world we live in. 

Energy will no longer be cheap – if we look at the cost of producing oil and gas, it hasn’t been cheap for quite a while, but we’ve been acting as though it were, a result of the bizarre financial systems we have created. 

So if your personal consumption is going to go down, where are you happy to draw the limits? And what can you do to either make sure those limits are affordable by both current and future standards?

For me, it is a tough question. I am not, I like to think, an addict to consumer culture. I cook and make do and try to cut out the packaging and pretend to an angelicism I don’t really have. 

But if the entire supply chain changes – which is what is already happening – what does that mean for the things, like tea, that I feel such a deep attachment to? 

Or, shudder, books? How much, really, does a book cost to produce? I’ve been buying them cheap for so long. I know that I buy too many and I probably need help, but what if there just were fewer books? The idea strikes dread into me.

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These are just the tip of the iceberg. A genuinely just and regenerative society is going to be radically different from what we experience today, I suspect. We might find we need to work more cooperatively. That working together is better than working alone. 

We might have to think about our place, the land we live on, more deeply, as we recognise the multitude of ways it nurtures us and our dependence on place and community. We may all have to spend time in the dirt, growing what we eat.

I don’t know. Arundhati Roy has said that this time is a portal, the time of lockdown, the time of slowdown. 

I am spending a lot of this time thinking about the life on the other side of that portal, what it looks and feels like, the texture of it, what I want to keep and how many things on this side of the portal are stopping me from making that journey through. 

What about you? What do you want to leave on this side of the portal as we all, somehow, come out the other side? And what do you want to take with you?

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

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