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Other innovations 08/04/2020

About Covid19, a message from Michael Webber, Chief Science & Technology Officer, ENGIE

Because the headlines each day give startling numbers and a lot of bad news, it is easy to lose sight of our situation. However, I am an optimist so I think we have much to be thankful for.  

We should take the pandemic seriously, but we should also look for some surprising joys in life.

To be clear, the current situation is stark. We will know people who will die or suffer and the economic effects will last years. The uncertainty can be difficult to handle on an individual level and a family level. We might be scared or we might know people who are scared. However, the Influenza Epidemic of 1918-1919 teaches us that society can endure all sorts of challenges. It isn’t easy, but it often leads to better outcomes.

I expect we will emerge on the other side with closer connections to our community and a stronger sense of purpose for our lives. As a society I expect the following to happen:

  • Planners will learn to listen to scientists who warn of impending danger (whether it’s about pandemics, damaged ecosystems, or climate change)
  • We will learn to collaborate at all levels of government (city, region, country)
  • We like the reduced air pollution from the quarantine, so we will seek ways to keep those environmental benefits
  • Companies will learn to tolerate tele-working and flexible schedules more broadly, which will be good for workers with families
  • We will appreciate the importance of strong safety nets for everyone
  • We will invest more effort and time into individual relationships and community
  • We will develop the tools for international collaboration, and those happen to be the same tools we will need to fight other global problems like climate change


Moving forward, here are some actions I recommend.   

We should take the pandemic seriously, but we should also look for some surprising joys in life. You can use these times to reach out to people who are important to you, whether family, friends or colleagues. Videoconferences from home give us a new view of our colleagues because in the background there is often a cat or a child or a shelf of books. We now have a window into each other’s private lives we did not have before, and I personally appreciate that opportunity to get to know some of you better. 

If you live alone, I recommend you learn from monks who thrived in solitude. They would create a structure, balancing meditation, work and rest. They would protect their mornings, waking slowly and savoring their coffee (without checking their phone!) and looking out the window. When it was time to work, they would free themselves from distractions and focus on their tasks. And when it was time to stop, they would stop. Along the way, they nourished themselves with good food, drink, music, and art. They were happy in isolation.

For all of us, we should not forget the important role we play in society, in the company, and in our families. This pandemic reminds people that energy is a critical service for society. Our jobs are important and have purpose so we should do our best to make progress to serve the world.

Importantly, we are witnesses to history. I think we should pay attention to the seriousness of the moment. Be sure to take the time to note what you observe, think and feel.


Lastly, let’s remember that we can choose how to look at the situation. Philosopher Naval Ravikant* noted two different outlooks: 


  • Mindset #1: The virus makes us fear for our health. It imprisons us in our homes and steals our productive time.
  • Mindset #2: The virus makes us value our health. It delivers us to our homes and gives us free time.

Let’s choose mindset #2 and become healthier than ever before.  

Dr. Michael E. Webber is based in Paris where he serves as the Chief Science and Technology Officer at ENGIE. 

Michael Webber is also the Josey Centennial Professor in Energy Resources at the University of Texas at Austin. His expertise spans research and education at the convergence of engineering, policy, and commercialization on topics related to innovation, energy, and the environment. His latest book "Power Trip: the Story of Energy" was published in 2019 by Basic Books with a 6-part companion series to be released starting April 20, 2020 on PBS and Amazon Prime.

His first book, "Thirst for Power: Energy, Water and Human Survival", addresses the connection between earth’s most valuable resources and offers a hopeful approach toward a sustainable future.

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