What on Earth is Going on with COVID-19 and the Climate Crisis?

EILIDH ROBB


Screen time is on the up. Motivation and productivity on the down. Anxiety and fear are placing the world’s mental health at a tipping point. Meanwhile global media is having a screaming match in an empty room about the connections we can draw between COVID-19 and climate change.


If you feel exhausted and overwhelmed by the amount of conflicting articles on COVID-19 and climate change, you definitely aren’t alone. It feels like the day after the Brexit result - where the only reasonable approach to dealing with current affairs was to crawl under your duvet and wait out the storm. But, when you feel like crawling back out again, hopefully this article will help map the conversations going on and, at least, outline some of the key narratives coming out of COVID-19 that are relevant for the climate movement going forwards.



INEQUALITY


Now, it’s certainly not new information that our world is fundamentally unequal. Whichever way you look at it, there is suffering, violence, poverty and discrimination exacerbated by the vast inqequalities between the rich and the poor.


And COVID-19 did what any pandemic would do; highlighted these inequalities for all to see. There has been a large narrative centered around COVID-19’s role in underlining injustice, while in the UK the virus itself has proven how ethnic minorities have increased chances of exposure, and supermarkets have been begging people to stop stockpiling. All across the globe we are seeing how various inequalities are being exacerbated in this new pandemic world and they are being met with varied responses.


There have been some amazing acts of kindness. With Captain Tom Moore managing to raise £32 million for National Health Service Charities, over 3000 COVID-19 Mutual Aid Groups set up across the UK, and communities coming together to recognise the value of supportive neighbours and collective living.


  • Yet, one big climate relevant question remains, will this continue once the pandemic is over or will global governments finally stop reacting to inequalities and start preventing them in the first place?



BAIL OUTS & A JUST RECOVERY


Speaking of government, a hot topic of conversation in the climate movement has been whether recovery from COVID-19 offers a chance to fast-track action on climate change. In short: by investing in socially and environmentally responsible policies and initiatives now, we can rebuild society in a way that makes it better than it was before.


On the one hand we have people calling for a Green New Deal style transition with principles for a just recovery. And on the other hand, global governments are bailing out the fossil fuel industry...


COVID-19’s lockdowns have brought with them a collapse in global oil demand, forcing prices to crash, and intensifying the crisis in the industry. While this could be an opportunity to say goodbye to the oil industry for good it seems that some governments have a different idea in mind.


Of course we cannot click our fingers and disband the fossil fuel industry, there are jobs and livelihoods at stake, but bailing out these big polluters is definitely not on the list of things to do to benefit either planet or people, and activists are, rightly, not happy.


In the UK, a £600 million loan from the UK Treasury is set to keep EasyJet in business, while the Bank of England’s stimulus package looks set to buy debt from Shell and Total. Things aren’t exactly looking good.


But these loans are short term, it’s the long-term transition funding that will determine what future we move towards, and that’s where the hard work will kick in.


  • COVID-19 presents an opportunity to kickstart global action on climate change, but will global governments prop up the fossil fuel industry, returning us to business as usual, or finally put people and the planet above profit?



BRINGING US BACK TO NATURE


COVID-19 has also been responsible for forcing everyday citizens to evaluate how critical nature is in their daily lives. For many living in cities and urban areas, the inability to access “true nature” has been taxing, while others are valuing time spent in nature in ways they haven’t before.


Particularly with global air pollution in decline and photos of cleaner cities appearing all over the internet - the human impacts on our natural world and climate are clear as day. Yet, CO2 emissions are only on track to drop by 5.5% and that just won’t cut it. Individual action is important, but our global industries, electricity and heating systems are still pumping boundless amounts of CO2 upward proving that less cars on the street won’t solve the crisis.


  • Will COVID-19 bring back long lasting protection of nature that translates into big enough action on climate change, or will this all blow over, and with it our appreciation of a cleaner earth?


With the world taking preventative measures to ‘flatten the curve’, we’ve proven that we are capable of coming together to endure something difficult, to avoid something even more difficult.


That, my friends, is climate change. Action that seems difficult now, is simply the price we have to pay to avoid very very difficult circumstances later. Unlike COVID-19, climate change will be a much longer fight .


There are so many questions left unanswered, and with contexts changing everyday only time will tell if we decide to make things harder or easier for ourselves in the post-COVID-19 recovery.


There is both hope and fear, both opportunity and adversity - like the world pre-COVID-19, things could go either way. But change IS possible, we’ve proven that much, and that precedent will be powerful in the months and years to come.


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