Chapter 3

A Great Realisation: Beyond Grand Plans

In the midst of uncertainty, there seems to be one undisputed truth about COVID-19: no one knows what the long-term implications and legacy of the pandemic will be. The current institutional infrastructures of democracies and dictatorships, of high- and low-income nations, have been deemed ill-equipped to deal with the scale, scope, and nature of the emerging and cascading risks. Alternative renewal strategies need to look beyond the traditional Grand Plans.

“Our cards were speed and time, not hitting power, and these gave us strategic rather than tactical strength. Range is more to strategy than force.” T. E. Lawrence, 1929

If we consider the pandemic in the context of growing global risks posed by the environmental breakdown – from air pollution and plastic contamination to the extinction of species and destruction of the oceans and biodiversity – the return to pre-2020 governance systems and economies is not only increasingly unlikely but would be structurally negligent. If we contend that the current emergency stems from the previous ways of doing things, this also tells us that any grand, monolithic plans provide no roadmap for responding to and reconfiguring the world after COVID-19.

There is much to applaud in state-led New Green Deal initiatives, and they may well result in the systemic overhaul that is required. However, we have to ensure their structural fit and flexibility in addressing the asymmetrical crisis born out of the interaction of emergent, cascading, and systemic risks and vulnerabilities. Grand Plans can often look good but are not easy to implement. Without effective deployment, they break apart when faced with the shifting situation on the ground. Like all plans, they rarely survive the first contact with reality – especially the reality of the long emergencies.

Next: The Age of Emergence ︎

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