What Lessons Can We Learn from the Coronavirus for a Total Green Future?
A number of recent articles have discussed the environmental impact of the coronavirus. At first, it was noted that China’s air pollution dropped dramatically after its coronavirus lockdown. Then a similar phenomenon occurred in Italy, which also saw a rapid reduction in air pollution.
Following these articles, a new wave of discussion emerged putting the coronavirus and the environment in dialogue, such as Owen Jones who asked in The Guardian, Why don’t we treat the climate crisis with the same urgency as coronavirus? Jones noted:
It is a global emergency that has already killed on a mass scale and threatens to send millions more to early graves. As its effects spread, it could destabilise entire economies and overwhelm poorer countries lacking resources and infrastructure. But this is the climate crisis, not the coronavirus. Governments are not assembling emergency national plans and you’re not getting push notifications transmitted to your phone breathlessly alerting you to dramatic twists and developments from South Korea to Italy.
Certainly, Jones makes a worthy point, but he is merely preaching to the choir, and does not really provide us with any new ammunition in our mission to establish a Total Green Future. However, there is a useful point made by May Boeve, executive director of the climate advocacy group 350.org in Fast Company, discussing governments’ responses to the coronavirus:
We’ve seen that governments can act, and people can change their behavior, in a very short amount of time … And that’s exactly what the climate movement has been asking governments and people to do for years in the face of a different kind of threat — the climate crisis — and we don’t see commensurate action. On the one hand, it shows that it’s possible to do this, and it’s possible for this kind of mobilization of resources to take place in a short amount of time. In that sense, that’s encouraging. But we were never in doubt of that aspect.
This is a valuable observation, because one of the main points of resistance in discussions about establishing a Total Green Future is that it is not realistic to implement the kind of measures required. However, as we have seen, governments can radically reduce travel, close businesses and more generally reorganize society pretty much overnight if they are inclined.
It’s also worth nothing just how extreme some of the coronavirus response measures have been in the context of equally extreme environmental proposals. For example, the fact that a number of countries have essentially closed their borders is a proposal that could have been lifted from the often-described eco-fascist Pentti Linkola and his book Can Life Prevail? When Linkola says it, everyone is shocked, yet when it comes from a democratically-elected head of state it is apparently quite reasonable. So what we learn from the coronovirus is not only that governments can swiftly take extreme actions if they feel inclined, but that people will accept those actions with very little resistance as long as it is framed as being for the common good.
A final point worth exploring is how the coronovirus exposes governments’ ultimate priority: the economy. For example, when Spain went into lockdown, citizens were given only few scenarios where they should leave the house, including going to work. In effect, Spain was revealed to be little more than a glorified labor camp. Arguably, the uncharacteristic swiftness of governments’ responses to the coronavirus is less about protecting the people — after all, they routinely ignore issues that result in more substantial loss of life such as air pollution — rather, shoring up the house of cards that is the global economy. This, too, is a useful point to make when people resist a Total Green Future because they believe their democratically-elected leaders are to be trusted with their wellbeing.