Will COVID-19 make the climate crisis worse?



Fátima is Ecosia's Video Editorial Lead. She thinks in too many Sprachen.

You already know the story of how the coronavirus took hold of the world. As we all had no other option but to slow down to flatten the curve, news broke of how air quality suddenly improved and of how nature was coming back.

But none of this has had a significant impact on CO2 levels on a global and long-term scale, nor will it be enough to permanently mitigate global warming.

Without a long-term, alternative plan to compensate for an economic system based on infinite growth, no punctual dip in carbon emissions will suffice to restore the balance in our ecosystems.

Why the coronavirus could make the climate crisis worse

As governments try to keep our economies afloat, they might relax their environmental standards to maximize what little economic activity is still feasible. They will, in other words, attempt to go back to business as usual.

In fact, this is exactly the trend we are seeing in places like China. As some cities slowly lift the lockdown, the Chinese government is ready to reboot its economy at any cost, particularly at the expense of the environment.

In the weeks to come, governments across the globe will decide how to invest emergency funds that businesses are demanding given that they were forced to pause their activities.

The question we need to ask is: which industries are our governments planning to support?

What the 2008 financial crash can teach us about the corona crisis

When the collapse of Lehman Brothers on September 15th 2008 triggered the biggest economic crisis since the Second World War, there were no real alternatives to a neoliberal system that had gotten out of hand.

And so the reaction of governments was to save the very banking and financial sector that had caused the crisis in the first place. Nobody had done the work of combining existing alternatives into a holistic policy plan, ready to be implemented in a time of crisis.

Today, that’s different. Proposals like the Green New Deal in the US or the European Green Deal Initiative are roadmaps towards a resilient economic system within our planetary boundaries.

If we don’t push for these changes now, governments will go down the same path as they did in 2008. We should not repeat those same mistakes.

The public bailout money the banking and financial sectors received during the crash did nothing to restructure an economic system that has proven unsustainable yet again - both for people and the climate.

How we might emerge from this crisis in ways that help us protect our environment

This is how the money governments and industries have should be spent:

  • Carbon-tax: Introduce a tax on CO2 emissions that reflects the environmental damage these emissions are causing. If companies with small environmental footprints got more bailout money than environmentally destructive ones, many businesses would be looking at ways to reduce their emissions.
  • Social funds: Couple those measures with long-term economic funds that accelerate the skill development of workers as they transition away from those polluting industries. From well funded, universal welfare systems, to unconditional basic income models, there are many feasible and tested solutions that don’t leave anyone behind.
  • Invest in renewable energy: Commit to long-term investments into renewable energy. This is the time to start transforming our energy infrastructures for good.

None of these points are novel suggestions. Climate movements have been making these demands for many decades.

The reaction to the coronavirus has proven two things.

Firstly, there is a link between our economy and the health of our planet. Secondly, inaction against the climate crisis is a choice. A choice driven by economic interests that are cementing social inequalities and making life on earth increasingly unbearable.

When faced with a challenge of such enormous proportions, it is easy to feel disempowered as an individual. And while none of us can solve this crisis on our own, the achievements of the climate protests in 2019 are an inspiration and a reminder of what we are capable of when we organize.

This is just the beginning of a peaceful revolution towards a sustainable economic system. It is upon us to decide how we emerge from the corona crisis.

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