A reminder of vulnerability

by Rachael Castell, Founder of OurPledge

Dear 2021. In case you didn’t get the memo we circulated in 2020…

When I heard about the situation in the Suez Canal last week, I couldn’t help but wonder if perhaps it wasn’t yet another message from dear Mother Nature herself, delivered by her senior colleagues Wind, Water and Earth to remind us that the way we humans organise the world is very, very fragile.

As the vaccine programme rolls out with delightful success and we all dream about pubs and parties and concerts and shops, I can imagine that a certain sense of fear took hold over the natural world. What if humanity forgot the lessons that the last year have taught us and genuinely, generally went ‘back to normal’. What if we forgot about the vulnerability of our complex global supply chains and the absent resilience of just-in-time inventories and returned to assuming that we can have whatever we want, whenever we want because #internet.

The reasons why we might want to rethink things are beautifully illustrated by TBB (the big boat) and I think the global fascination with it speaks to our innate knowledge that it is trying to tell us something more than our tweets or memes can articulate. First of all, it reminds us in its simplicity just HOW BIG the world is; not to mention HOW MUCH of our stuff comes from a bloody long way away. The diversion maps, depicting all of the SBs (smaller boats) being forced to take the long way round are a brilliant prompt to imagine how many of the things we use every day have come from half way around the world.

In many ways it’s a miracle. In many others it’s a picture of a world confused. The blocked boats are carrying electronics and clothing and exercise equipment produced elsewhere and delivered to us on demand because we have been lead to believe that we need these things; the problem being that we want to pay minimal prices for the privilege so they are created far away by people we don’t know in conditions we can’t see. Perhaps even more dramatically, earlier this year, other stalled ships were carrying masks and medication and items essential to the running of international health services at the beginning of a global pandemic. In all cases, lives are risked. In all cases, the system is flawed and fragile and exploited.

You also can’t turn a blind eye to the prevalence of discussion over the blockage’s impact on the oil-obsessed markets that are still worshipped as the delineator of economic success or stability.

Whichever imp selected the Ever Given as the latest Headline to Humanity knew what they were doing,

For more in depth analysis I recommend: this article from the New York Times, this article from Supply Chain Dive, this from Al Jazeera or this from the Express.

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