Pandemic leading us into a whole new world

Rolf Lockwood

Against all odds, I’m actually starting to feel hopeful three months after this damned pandemic forced us into lockdown. It’s not that I think we’ll be back to what we thought of as “normal” any time soon. We won’t get back there. Ever.

No, I’m hopeful because we’re entering a new world, and I think it will eventually be a better one. This is a pivotal moment in human history, I believe, and while there will be some very, very difficult challenges in the short term, the longer term offers significant change and maybe even a more civilized world that’s easier to live in.

Covid-19 sign
(Photo: iStock)

So where are we right now?

In our part of the economy truck-making plants have started to re-open, a great sign, but a recent ACT Research report says North American Class 8 vehicle production will “drop an eye-watering 66% this year” compared to 2019. So, good news and bad news in the same sentence. The question is, what will that picture look like in 2023? Better, I expect.

“Freight demand has fallen, global supply chains have been severely disrupted,” and of course there’s been a huge rise in e-commerce, the report noted. The implications are clear, because these conditions will very likely persist: the number and types of commercial vehicles will change. One of those effects will be a rise in the spec’ing of smaller diesels in the 12-litre range, and likely continued growth in gasoline engines.

Those global supply chains will shorten, and I think this will be one of most profound changes ahead of us. It’s called “de-globalization”, and I think Covid-19 will change us in ways that fear of climate change hasn’t. The pandemic and our climate woes are combining with a serious force, and together they’ll gradually wean us off fossil fuels and into regional alternatives.

Telecommuting has been a key feature of our lockdown process, and while some people and companies don’t like it much, it’s bound to continue. I’ve worked from home for years and couldn’t bear to go back to an office. I’m not alone.

So we’ll travel less, but not just in local terms. We’ll fly far less often, domestically and internationally. And I think we’ll soon import less, as more than one provincial premier promised a few months ago when buying masks and other protective gear offshore proved to be a challenge.

And then there are pickles. Why should our pickles come from India when we could produce them here? Why do we not can our own tomatoes? Why on earth do we buy plywood from Sweden? That list goes on and on. Why? Because companies can produce those and other things more cheaply overseas, and make more money in the process, relying on the notion that they’ll win our hearts if they save us pennies. But I’ll pay a little more to buy local any day. Probably you will, too.

According to Dr. John V. Bowlus, a researcher and lecturer at the Center for Energy and Sustainable Development at Kadir Has University in Istanbul, all this means a sharply lower demand for oil and other fossil fuels.

“The transportation sector has depended on oil for over a century, but de-globalization means less dependence on transport,” he says.

I think the reality is a little more nuanced – less longhaul transport, for sure, but that’s already happening. But Bowlus also says that renewables will see their costs fall, to the point where they’re competitive against oil and gas.

“Internet-based solutions will supplant work that requires movement and presence,” he goes on. “This means more energy will be needed to power data centers and online connections. Renewables serve these purposes well.”

This column only barely touches the surface of changes coming, so I’ll follow up and flesh out some of these ideas. It’s actually rather exciting.

Rolf Lockwood

Rolf Lockwood is editor emeritus of Today's Trucking and a regular contributor to Trucknews.com.

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