After December 2019, when I saw the opportunity for a Green New Deal to be implemented in the UK crushed by the Conservatives’ majority, I decided that next year I would put a lot of my political energy into making a Green New Deal possible and getting as many people on our campus angry at the University and the carbon-emitting companies it invites on campus every year.
Now that the immanence of a climate catastrophe is clear, it is depressing and terrifying to have a government that subsidies fossil fuel companies. They even tried to push through the construction of a third runway at Heathrow Airport. Yet, despite all of this, the government still believes the UK can be carbon neutral by 2050.
Back in January, I thought that nothing could be more damaging to the fabric of human society than global warming, with its threat of rising sea levels and eventual extinction of life on Earth. Then Covid-19 arrived and I pretty much forgot that the Maldives are projected to be submerged underwater by 2100. Instead, I started panicking about the lack of pasta in my cupboard and being stopped by the police in Endcliffe Park.
It also seemed as though many people felt positive about lockdown’s impact on the climate: we all stayed in doors, less of us used transport, and industry came to a stop. On social media, people celebrated seeing wildlife that had seemingly disappeared, and many pundits came to the conclusion that “humans were the virus all along”.
Indeed, rather than talk about how we should rebuild post-pandemic society in a sustainable way, some turned to eco-facism and decided that the world would just be better off without us. Although scientists have shown that lockdown caused a 17% decrease in emissions in April this year compared to 2019, we know this crisis will only cut emissions temporarily, with big businesses continually lobbying the government to reopen the economy and workers returning to their jobs.
Over the next few years, we will probably see the argument that Covid-19 has had a positive effect on the environment and that we can carry on as usual, investing in electric cars and relying on the public to shop sustainably. Climate deniers and politicians that rely on the support of the fossil fuel industry will once again refuse to change the way our economy works by arguing the reduction in emissions over lockdown was enough, or that we’ve spent too much money as a result of Covid-19, and therefore couldn’t possibly spend any more.
However, we have to see the disastrous handling of Covid-19 as inextricably linked to the way governments have handled climate policy and its implementation, or lack thereof. Our government delayed locking down the UK, privatised our testing regimes, U-turned on everything from feeding children to the furlough scheme. Then, when we came out of lockdown they allowed the virus to run riot by encouraging us to ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ and refused to financially support people that needed government help the most.
Millions are now unemployed and will remain so for the foreseeable future. This lack of coherent messaging and decisive action mirrors the government’s attitude to climate change. Unable to see into the future and focused on satisfying the industries they need for political support, our government is failing to take the radical action needed to prevent imminent climate catastrophe and have ignored the scientists.
Not to mention the disproportionate effects both Covid-19 and climate change have on the most marginalised communities. The Global North does absolutely nothing to stop rising sea levels as it watches famines, droughts and floods destroy communities in the Global South, in the same way it thinks nothing of people of colour not only disproportionately working on the front lines of this pandemic, but disproportionately dying of the virus as well, as statistics show that Black people are more at risk of dying from Covid-19 than any other ethnicity. It isn’t a stretch to argue that Western governments’ priorities are inherently white supremacist, with marginalised communities paying the price of both climate change’s and Covid-19’s impacts.
Climate change has been forgotten, which makes sense as environmental breakdown isn’t a lived reality for many people in this country, whereas Covid-19is destroying communities and families everyday. What is needed is a policy platform and a government that doesn’t see the preservation of life and public health as an inconvenience, and is able to think ahead, aware of the consequences of inaction – whether it be towards a deadly virus or rising global temperatures. When we finally prioritise the welfare of human beings over the welfare of profit-greedy corporations, we will be in a much better place to tackle both pandemics and environmental degradation.
Image Credit: Kevin Snyman