How Coronavirus Puts Climate Activism In Quarantine

These days, all the focus is on the Coronavirus, which is justified. But in the meantime, climate activism is being put in quarantine, like everyone else. And we’re afraid that this is bad news for the fight against climate change…

But to be honest, who has time to fight climate change when we have a closer, more visible enemy to defeat? Especially when the virus managed to make us believe it is “eco-friendly”!

Here is how Coronavirus has pushed the pause button on climate activism, and why the environment may have to stay in “quarantine” longer than anyone else.

Over-mediated focus on a small victory

“Climate change needs coronavirus marketing.”

That sentence summarizes it all.

Coronavirus has been making all the headlines for the last weeks. Even terrorism seems to “stay at home”…

How fast the virus is spreading, how far we are from doubling the curve, how bad it is for the world economy … but also how it has been giving a break to our planet. We can’t deny that last one. That positive consequence of a negative global crisis is very welcomed in these difficult times.

Yes, we all need good news at the moment but the truth is that we should not let a small victory blinds us from reality: this is probably only a short-term win!

Let’s just have a look at what the past tells us. Emission drops is a common factor amongst previous global crises. But every single time, emissions started to rise again as soon as we recovered from the crisisIn fact, this short break for the planet may actually be an environmental time-bomb!

Indeed, many claim that the post-coronavirus era could actually be worse for the planet as it was before if we don’t take the appropriate measures. And seeing emission drops due to Coronavirus lockdown as a victory may not be one of these appropriate measures.

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People have other things to take care of

Before the virus, climate activism was gaining some momentum, led by a younger generation of connected activists. People were going out in the streets to protest and ask for a change. And even though few real official actions were taken, there was hope.

Now, more than 3 billion people are in lockdown at the time of writing this article. 3 billion people doing their best to overcome a pandemic that is having a considerable impact on their life.

For some, this means having to work from home and to respect social distancing rules. For others, the consequences are much bigger. Fighting the virus; having to cohabit with 4 people in a 15-square meters apartment without being able to go out; losing your job and having to live off your savings for an indefinite time.

The list is long and every element on that list is another reason not to “care” about the environment at the moment. The environment is a longer term preoccupation and many people have no time for long term concerns. Especially when the future is so uncertain…

Our current lifestyle? Going through that crisis, one day at a time.

Short-term vision, period.

Not a time for green investments

What’s happening with people is also happening with companies and governments. The global economy is taking a huge hit and stock markets are plunging.

On one hand, we have confused investors, who don’t know how to act because of all the uncertainty surrounding the outbreak. On the other hand, we have companies of all-sizes and from all sectors that are just trying to outlive the lockdown. This leads to a lot of lost jobs and bankruptcy is lurking around the corner and in the middle, we have governments, waging war on two fronts and where every decision on one front can have a catastrophic impact on the other front.

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Health or economy? We all agree on health first, but when does a weak economy start to have a human cost? And this raises another question: is there any space for the environment in that equation?

For many, the answer is “no…at least not at the moment!” But the environment may remain on “quarantine” longer than we think.

Once the outbreak will finally be over, we will most likely still have to overcome an economic and social crisis. And green investments may have to remain on the backseat until that fight is over. One reason is that, in times of recovery, governments and companies have to take a whole bunch of measures to considerably compensate losses and increase consumption.

So meanwhile companies’ budgets will go into marketing and productivity efforts, green innovation will understandably not be on their plate. Plus it might not be easy for companies still interested in green innovation to secure the financing they need.

As for governments, their first priority will certainly be to give people their jobs back and to increase their purchasing power.  It’s difficult to imagine any new green policy until consumption is properly restored.

Yet, a few questions remain.

Once this is all over, will we learn from the Coronavirus crisis?

Will the quarantine be the wake-up call that makes us fully appreciate the outdoors?

Will governments be ready to take similar drastic actions on climate change? And will the people be ready to change their lifestyle accordingly?

The future will tell…


Jonathan Davies

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