Solving the pandemic crisis and climate change go hand in hand


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The climate and ecological emergency have had to compete with concerns about immigration, the Brexit negotiations and public spending on the NHS and schools.

The desire to stop a damaging Brexit has even led staunch environmentalist Liberal Democrats to take their eye off the political ball. Just when climate change and the environment had finally risen up the political agenda in the UK and beyond, the coronavirus outbreak has forced it back down the list of government priorities.

The cost of the response measures and the subsequent economic fallout may undermine the commitment of many governments around the world to the reduction of carbon emissions and the restoration of ecosystems. Some people have already raised questions over whether we can still afford the fight against climate change with the economy on its knees.

Meanwhile, as air quality in normally polluted cities improves and the number of flights fall to an all-time low, goats have been seen running through the streets of Llandudno and deer are roaming Essex housing estates. Environmentalists are quietly cheering and nature lovers are cherishing government mandated walks in the spring sunshine. Even if the lockdown has shed light on how human activity pollutes the air and harms animals, the current lockdown is as economically unsustainable as our economy is environmentally unsustainable.

In the post-Covid-19 political era, it is crucial that the Liberal Democrats make this argument. The continued exploitation of and violence to animals, and the destruction of the natural world to grow food for animals we subsequently eat, have left human beings vulnerable to the spread of new diseases and climate disaster. This isn’t a problem merely for other countries. Our factory farms also bear the risk of future pandemics. As internationalists, rather than blaming other nations, we see this as a challenge that requires global cooperation on an unprecedented level.

Undoubtedly, many of us have benefited from the affordability and convenience of air travel. Our frequent flying habits have clearly contributed to the rapid speed at which the virus has spread globally. The airline industry wants a bailout even while bearing responsibility for significant global emissions. As workers stay at home, the emissions from diesel and petrol vehicles that pollute our city air are falling. Yet, the pollution in our air has been connected with a 15 percent increase in death rates from the virus. The virus has even been detected on particles of air pollution which could further extend the spread of the virus.

The scale of each challenge may cause us to think we must tackle each one separately. How do we rebuild the damaged economy? How do we prevent future outbreaks of viruses? How do we deal with the climate emergency and improve air quality? We need to respond in a coordinated manner and recognise the interdependence of each problem. This should prompt us to rethink how we relate to the natural environment and embrace the opportunity to build a greener economy.

The Liberal Democrats need to continue to make this argument to the country.

* Joe Dodds is an activist and member of the Hammersmith and Fulham Liberal Democrats and the Green Liberal Democrats.

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10 Comments

  • “As workers stay at home, the emissions from diesel and petrol vehicles that pollute our city air are falling. Yet, the pollution in our air has been connected with a 15 percent increase in death rates from the virus. The virus has even been detected on particles of air pollution which could further extend the spread of the virus.”

    That is quite interesting as I often feel a touch strange when returning from an hour’s walk or the local supermarket, I put it down to a mental reaction rather than the air being ruined by the virus but nevertheless always take a 2g hit of Vitamin C and a sniff out of my bottle of Oil or Oregano (very strong stuff, BTW), which sorts me out. BTW, I am quite sensitive and often used to complain about recirculated air in supermarkets and department stores being of low quality.

  • What ever we wish for, this is what will happen. After the lock down, people will want to fly to the Med so that they can soak themselves in the sun. Retirees will want to go on that holiday of a lifetime to Africa or to see relatives in Australia, Governments will bail out national carriers although there will be some rationalisation among smaller carriers.
    Animal spirits will win out because that’s just how it is. It’s hard wired into humans.

  • Jenny Barnes 29th Apr '20 - 7:11am

    No bail outs for the oil,car or airline industries. Let the market decide. Actually this isn’t going to be “over” for a long time, if ever. Proper support, maybe UBI, for the workers who may lose their jobs and government spend on active travel, renewables, house insulation etc is what’s needed.

  • @Ian Sanderson “There have been occasions when a face-to-face meeting or a site meeting was very well worth it to save time and misunderstanding – something that ‘technological’ solutions couldn’t do.”

    Is that really the case? I struggle to think of many reasons for the transportation of a body to a location that can’t be dealt with over technology.

    And is it “well worth it” in terms of the flight CO2 produced, or is it just mildly inconvenient?

  • Peter Hirst 29th Apr '20 - 1:07pm

    I would include Brexit in the triad of emergencies because once we have left the EU, both will be more challenging. The government needs to plan its exit from lockdown while tackling climate change. We should plan to avoid large close contact gatherings for at least a year or only allow those who have tested positive to antibody to attend. Abolishing unnecessary travel will help reduce emissions and infections.

  • @Ian Sanderson “There have been occasions when a face-to-face meeting or a site meeting was very well worth it to save time and misunderstanding – something that ‘technological’ solutions couldn’t do.”
    Agree, I’ve found the alternatives to same-time same-place meetings are enhanced when you’ve actually met someone in person.
    However, this shouldn’t be an excuse to go back to old habits and jump on a plane at the mention of having a meeting because it was the habitual thing to do.

    I find it notable that today’s youth, currently playing multi-player games on Xbox/Playstation etc. are learning skills necessary to form successful teams composed of players who have never met and are unlikely to met in person. I’m hoping the skills will be transferrable into their future workplace.

  • “Agree, I’ve found the alternatives to same-time same-place meetings are enhanced when you’ve actually met someone in person.”

    I’ve been doing teleconferencing for nearly twenty years now, and F2F is a “nice to have” but not essential.

    My personal view is that a lot, if not the majority, of business travel is habitual and designed to enhance the prestige of the individual, just like most meetings are about the status of the attendees rather than producticvity.

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