Will the COVID-19 pandemic give us a new perspective on what a climate crisis is?

Will the COVID-19 pandemic give us a new perspective on what a climate crisis is?

The response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been dramatically different to the repeated scientific warnings about the climate crisis from organisations, companies and groups, such as Extinction Rebellion.

Those that declared climate emergencies throughout 2019 and 2020 have so far enacted nothing like the scale and speed of action to limit the spread of coronavirus. Yet, while action on COVID-19 has lowered CO2 emissions drastically it has also shown how damaging a rapid response can be, compared to a steady and planned transition. Certain governments will, in time, seek to now reverse commitments made to dealing with the climate and ecological emergencies, such as potentially scrapping any ‘new green deal’!

I get it. In a situation of immediate life or death, most of us will take action to reduce our risk if we are offered a choice. Climate change and ecological breakdown may well bring about just as many deaths, if not more, alongside a degradation in natural habitats, but responses have not been sanctioned so quickly. 

As flights are cancelled, vehicle journeys are restricted and significant numbers of people work from home, there’s less travel, and so fewer CO emissions. Is it possible to ensure that some things don’t go back to the way they were?

It’s phenomenally important for people to return to social life after “social distancing” ends, but we can do that based on new priorities – socialising and enjoying events locally or through livestreams, and letting go of 20th century visions of the future based on unlimited growth, unlimited travel, and unlimited consumption.

If governments bail out travel companies in the way they bailed out banks in 2008 and 2009, then all the forces to promote travel will return and expectations are likely to go back to pre-coronavirus standards, as the behaviour of banks after the crash demonstrates.

Maybe, just maybe, the pandemic will give us a new perspective on what a crisis is. While everything is up in the air, there is time to rethink.

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