Opinion – Coronavirus Shows Elites Are Wreaking Havoc On The Climate — It’s Not You And Me
The responsibility for the lion’s share of global emissions falls on the global elite,
writes Hannah Martin
We are in the midst of a crisis. The exponential spread of Covid-19, the virus that has killed thousands globally, is challenging almost every aspect of our daily lives. From our work commute to a Sunday roast with the family, social distancing and self-isolation measures are making us behave, move and work in radically different ways. In fact, we are having to unlearn many of our everyday habits in order to adjust to this new world, with no end in sight.
The restrictions on movement and public gatherings, which vary in their stringency from nation to nation, mean that we are travelling less and leaving planes, cars, buses and boats at a standstill. Beyond the economic shock of reduced movement, which has seen tens of thousands of jobs brought into question in the aviation and transport industries, there have also been environmental consequences.
China, for example, has seen its carbon emissions fall by nearly a quarter while it has been occupied with halting Covid-19, with a 70% reduction in domestic flights. In Europe, images of crystal-clear water in the infamously filthy canals of Venice have been circulating online and in the media, as well as satellite imagery showing the falls in noxious air above the continent.
In more extreme cases, deer are flocking to the streets of Nara in Japan and wild boar are roaming nonchalantly through Italian streets. As humans have retreated into isolation, nature seems to be returning. And as the air has become cleaner and emissions have nose-dived, a loud chorus of people have been wilfully proclaiming: “Nature is fighting back! We are the virus!”
Such an argument is both misplaced and dangerous. It falsely asserts that the way our economy, and therefore society, is organised is the default for humanity and that job losses, poverty and isolation are the price we must pay for decarbonising the economy. It also contends that the damage wrought by our extractive, fossil-fuelled economy is a responsibility equally shared by all of humanity — it isn’t.
“The choruses proclaiming that humanity is in fact the virus on Earth fail to grasp the extent of global inequalities and how they relate to emissions”
This crisis has highlighted the fundamental flaws of our economic system, where inequality has risen, wages have stagnated and where job insecurity is so rife that many millions will now find their livelihoods thrown into chaos. This, in turn, will mean mounting debts, late rents and delayed mortgage payments, pushing people further and further into uncertainty. Of course, some governments are moving to soften these blows as best they can with a range of policies, such as mortgage holidays and rent relief, but these will provide only temporary respite. The fact remains the same: our current economic system is unravelling.
The choruses proclaiming that humanity is in fact the virus on Earth fail to grasp the extent of global inequalities and how they relate to emissions. The responsibility for the lion’s share of global emissions falls on the global elite: half of global emissions can be traced back to the richest 10% of humanity. If we are to compare human activity to a deadly virus, we need to be more specific: it’s the activities of the rich within an exploitative economic system. Billions of people live side by side with the natural world in ways where both thrive. Most of humanity is not the problem.
But when cracks begin to show, they can let the light in. Society has already begun to rally together in the face of this crisis, using ingenuity to find new ways to work, organise and connect in the face of unprecedented circumstances. Mutual aid networks have popped up around the country, providing community care where the government has long been absent. We have adapted to this new world and we are doing things differently.
In the wake of Covid-19, these are the things we must remember. The current economic system is not only unsustainable, wreaking havoc on our environment, but it is failing to protect us from economic shocks, downturns and stock market crashes, putting untold pressures on our ability to meet our basic needs.
The economy must be rebuilt, reshaped and reimagined after this crisis in order to prevent the next one. We need to thread resilience through every aspect of our economy, for example by ensuring that the prosperity of communities does not hinge on polluting our air and oceans. The steps taken by governments worldwide to halt the pandemic shows there is the political will and the finances to transform society; we just need to provide the imagination.
Hannah Martin is co-executive director of Green New Deal UK
Originally published at: https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk