A calamity that recognises no borders. A calamity that requires collaboration between countries without exception, that has no care for economic considerations, that disproportionately devastates the already-disadvantaged, and that compels policymakers to choose between people and profits. A description apt for more than one of the crises presently plaguing humanity. The parallels between the two perils of coronavirus and climate catastrophe could not be clearer.
As a result of national lockdown to contain the virus, economies are on a route to suffering on a level that rendered the 2008 credit crunch a mere hiccup in humanity’s obsessive pursuit of endless growth. The short-term impact has been stark: the cost of government borrowing has tumbled to negligible rates, while crude-oil barrels temporarily plummeted to negative prices, and unemployment is soaring by the day. The world has borne witness to the fragility of the global order, and we watch as working-class communities of colour are afflicted with unequal health outcomes and disproportionately worse material difficulty.
And yet the British government has attempted to alter prevailing narratives by scapegoating refugees and asylum seekers as a subhuman external threat. Warning that they will carry out military push-backs at sea is nothing short of a crisis of basic human empathy, as well as a flagrant disregard of international law.
With millions of anticipated job losses and a further cruel accretion of rent arrears and a heartbreaking surge in food-bank dependency, never has public sentiment been as in favour of a drastic deviation from the status quo as it is today. Never has it been as economically expedient for elected officials to trigger a global transition towards a greener, equitable and sustainable future – one where connected injustices such as wealth inequality and issues around migrant rights are addressed too. Inspired with hope, one may presume that we are on the precipice of a planetary political upheaval. But only sufficient political will can translate need into deed.
In 2018, in the aftermath of Donald Trump withdrawing the US from the Paris Climate Accords and escalating his campaign to silence the science justifying climate action, the IPCC were boldly explicit: governments had 12 short years to get a grip. Inaction would set off an inevitable, irreversible spiral of climate-induced suffering and desolation. In the months that followed, in the UK and the US, political pledges to mitigate or indeed prevent climate disaster were roundly rejected by the commentariat as immoderate, impractical and costly. Often, policymakers have either omitted a climate focus entirely, or they have purported to give precedence to climate policy with rousing rhetoric, while imposing mere market-driven surface solutions generally held in contempt by the masses, such as carbon-taxing fanaticism in the EU.
Nevertheless, in this moment of mass politicisation and mobilisation, whether it’s the fight for healthcare provision, housing for all or the historic Black Lives Matter protests that swept the globe, there is cause for optimism.
Though infinitely tragic, the pandemic has made apparent and pertinent that which was – pre-covid – regularly overlooked. Those who may have disregarded the notion of limitless government spending as unfeasible, citing the ever-elusive “deficit”, have since seen the depth to which government monetary and fiscal policy can be extended when needed. Those who were previously trapped in a race-to-the-bottom society stripped of empathy and starved of heart have since found the strength to slow down and see the interconnectedness of the world around them. Those who may have considered the scale of global crises to be indiscriminate have seen a stark magnification of affliction tearing through already-neglected sections of society – such as the elderly, those in care and ethnic minority communities. Others who long deemed climate activism as a middle-class fancy have, through critical and refined concepts such as the “Green New Deal”, become privy to the relationship between the fuel they put in their car and their ability to put food on the table.
From the school climate strikes to the Sunrise Movement in the US, movements have long been imagining ideas, cultivating thought and mobilising the public regarding the urgency of a response in proportion to the severity of the climate crisis before us. The coronavirus pandemic, at this very moment, is propelling the present need for an equitable society where climate consciousness is at its core. Joe Biden – considered by all to be a conservative Democrat – looks likelier by the day to dethrone Donald Trump in the US presidential election in November, pledging to pour more than $2trn towards green infrastructure and a renewable revolution. This represents a clear shift in political consensus in terms of government spending and attitudes towards climate responsibility.
In the 18th century, the industrial revolution initiated in the UK rapidly consumed most of the inhabited regions of our planet. It is likely that several nations must now take the lead in collectively healing the Earth, while simultaneously selecting a system that is able to provide for all, through leaders and a political programme sustained by and answerable to a supportive but sharp-eyed international mass movement.
We have the ideas, the resources, and now we have the opportunity presented by the pandemic’s global, systemic shock to ensure comprehensive climate action – all that’s left to secure is the political will.
Magid Magid is Green Party MEP for Yorkshire and the Humber
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