‘A terrible situation but a big opportunity’

Reclaiming the city: Goats prancing through the streets of Llandudno in Wales. © Getty

Is there a green way out of this pandemic? As restrictions begin to lift, minds are turning to how we want the post-corona world to look – and many want it to look as green as possible.

The former governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, has added his voice to calls for industrialised nations to invest in a greener economic recovery from the Covid-19 crisis.

He said that the pandemic was “a terrible situation, but there was also a big opportunity” at the end of it.

“We have a crisis with climate change which will involve every country in the world and from which we can’t self-isolate,” he added.

He recommended regulatory policies that would push economies more quickly towards greener growth – and a more sustainable future – citing the UK’s plan to phase out petrol and diesel cars by 2035.

Governments, he added, should also take the opportunity to invest in wind and solar power to accelerate the transition to greener energy.

Many experts have pointed out that one of the few upsides of the pandemic has been lockdown’s positive environmental impact. Air pollution has plummeted. Carbon emissions are set to fall by 5.5%.

This isn’t enough to tackle the climate crisis by itself, they argue. But the question now is not when will life return to normal but what “normal” do we want to return to?

For many, the answer lies in a Green New Deal, aimed at achieving system change and tackling both inequality and the climate crisis. The term can mean slightly different things in different contexts, but the core ideas remain the same.

Firstly, it means only getting energy from renewable sources in the future, retrofitting buildings to improve energy efficiency.

Secondly, it means protecting and expanding ecosystems, such as forests, that take carbon dioxide out of the air.

Thirdly, it means ending dependence on businesses that pollute the environment.

The massive social changes required to make these things happen would create hundreds of thousands of new “climate jobs” – such as those in renewable energy – which would actively help bring emissions down.

In the UK, activist Jonathan Neale has even proposed the creation of a National Climate Service – an organisation like the NHS, funded by the government, which would employ people to make this a reality

But critics are numerous. Such changes are impossible, they say. Too fast. Too expensive. Too big. After the coronavirus, we simply need to get back to business as quickly as possible.

Is there really a green way out?

Green light

No, argue its critics. These ideas are utopian, a pipe dream. They would put millions out of work, destroy prosperity, and cost too much. The priority after the latest coronavirus has to be getting businesses and the economy back to work, as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, the climate may even have to become less of a priority to achieve this.

Absolutely, argue its supporters. Activists and thinkers have spent years working out detailed plans for how this could happen. There is massive public support – almost half the UK population wants the climate crisis to be addressed as urgently as the coronavirus was. The question is not, is there a way? But rather, is there the political will to make this happen?

You Decide

  1. Do you think governments should give money to fossil fuel companies affected by the coronavirus crisis?
  2. Who has most responsibility to address the climate emergency: governments, businesses, or individuals?

Activities

  1. Create a poster making the case for a Green New Deal. What are the main ideas? What are the most common objections and how would you counter them? Pitch it to your household. How many people can you convince?
  2. Imagine you are designing a new National Climate Service. What are the five most important jobs and why? Present the list to others in your household and see if they agree.

Some People Say...

“Change takes courage.”

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, US politician, the youngest-ever woman to serve in the US Congress, and key architect of the US Green New Deal bill.

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
The Green New Deal idea has been around for a fairly long time, in different forms. A group of academics and activists in the UK published a report titled, A Green New Deal in 2008. The American Green New Deal, spearheaded by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, is a set of proposals to address climate change and economic inequality which takes some inspiration from the 2008 report, but is more US-centric.
What do we not know?
What politicians will prioritise in the coming weeks and months. Will those in control work to get things back to “business as usual” as quickly as possible – ignoring calls from many to take this unprecedented opportunity to change things? Or will they use the breakdown of normal life to try radical new experiments that would have seemed impossible three months ago?

Word Watch

System change
Changing the structure of society, rather than focusing on individual behaviour.
Retrofitting
To add to something that has already been built.
Utopian
Impossibly perfect. The term comes from an ancient Greek phrase meaning “no-place” invented by Henry VIII’s chancellor, Sir Thomas More, in 1516, as the name of an imaginary, ideal island.
Pipe dream
Something that will never happen – that a smoker might dream about while puffing on a pipe.

Subjects

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