By Nick Lyth
But is that really the case? It is the job of a historian to seek parallels, and they do exist. In the convulsions of the first half of the 20th Century, an era which itself experienced crises unknown in scale and violence before or since, there are several parallels. Most obviously, in our immediate experience, Spanish Flu, of course, was a far more serious pandemic than COVID-19, killing well in excess of 2% of the global population, while C-19 has barely reached 0.02%. There are clear parallels here. In addition, the Great Depression was a global economic crisis that exceeds the current economic crisis.
Worst of all, though, the chaos, displacement, destruction and death that marked the end of World War II maybe can start to teach us something about how best to deal with the chaos, displacement, destruction and death that Climate Change could cause. Here, perhaps, we can see how the world was devoured by convulsions which might teach us lessons. Following the journey into hell for huge swathes of the world’s population at the end of World War II – and let’s not forget that the slaughter and destruction continued for several years after the end of the war itself, while comparable upheavals were going on in unrelated areas, such as Mao’s China as it approached a violent unification – how did we put our world together again?
It is interesting to consider the mechanics of restoration and recovery. For these were remarkable. From such an unlikely start, they were to produce a second half of the 20th century which brought unprecedented peace and prosperity to large parts of the global community. The mechanics of recovery were characterised by three crucial qualities:
So what does this teach us? That perhaps we should be looking to enable these three characteristics in face of the looming catastrophes of Climate Change. But where will they come from? Can we expect anything similar?
So I believe there are lessons we can learn from history. But we have not learned them yet.
Footnote: Since first writing this blog, the Prince of Wales has not only relaunched his Sustainable Markets Initiative, he has also given it a new version of the Marshall Plan as a guide and beacon for development. Perhaps we can learn the lessons from history, after all; and perhaps there is real unifying leadership emerging on the international stage.
Originally written on 10th October 2020.