Welcome to the 4th and final chapter of our debate and thank you for sticking around until the end! Quick recap: I’m discussing the differences between action taken on the Coronavirus epidemic and action taken (or not taken) on the climate emergency. So far we’ve looked at (1) the imminent fear of death, (2) how current each threat is and (2) the media. For the fouth and final section I’ll investigate ‘money’ as a driving factor for government action (or inaction).
4. Economic impact
More often than not, governments hold ‘the economy’ as the holy grail; the one factor that should be preserved in the face of any threat. Of course, a healthy economy is necessary to keep the country running, but too often governments look at short-term economic gain rather than looking to the future.
We are yet to fully understand the global economic impact COVID-19. But, you may have already noticed some changes…have you checked out the price of petrol lately? My local petrol station was selling unleaded E10 for $1.13/L! That’s unheard of. Quarantine, social isolation, travel bans and factory closure have reduced the demand for coal and gas. This is a classic example of price matching demand. There is talk that this could trigger an economic ‘reset’. But, what would this look like?
World leaders are aspiring to ‘return-to-normal’ following the pandemic. But, “Normal created a climate change timebomb that may make the economic consequences of coronavirus look mild by comparison.” Normal also “caused the mass destruction of ecosystems, human desperation for animal protein and increased human-wildlife contact”, ultimately leading to the contraction and spread of diseases such as Ebola and COVID-19.
“Despite current economic weaknesses, policymakers should not slow the transition to sustainable and low-carbon development actions”– United Nations Economic and Social Survey of Asia and the Pacific 2020
This period of low oil production could be the ideal time to impose strict carbon pricing schemes and fossil fuel reduction subsidies. In simple terms, if we implement schemes now, that force companies to pay more for fossil fuel production, companies may be less inclined to go back to the business-as-usual scenario. Governments should also harness their energies into renewable projects so that when this pandemic subsides we can step forward into a ‘green’ future.
But, with death tolls in the US passing 20,400 and Italy close behind with 19,900, it is unlikely that a ‘green’ future will be the current priority for world leaders.
The Climate Emergency
Majority of Australians are concerned about climate change. In fact, of the 54,000+ people who participated in the recent ‘Australia Talks‘ survey, 72% listed climate change as their leading worry, and 60% think immediate action is needed.
There’s no doubt that taking action will be expensive. It will require the building of renewable energy sources such as wind farms, and hydroelectric dams, training of new staff to work with these technologies, job loss of staff working in non-renewable power. But what are the long-term gains?
WHO estimated that the benefit of reducing emissions would be equivalent to US$ 244,564 billion. BILLION. A further US$ 34.3 billion would be saved by the reduced need to treat climate-related illnesses.
We also have to weight up the costs of not acting on the climate emergency. How many people will be displaced when sea levels rise and floods become more severe? When countries near the equator become too hot to survive? What will it cost to re-home and help the tens of thousands of cliamte refugees? These costs alone could send the world into economic break-down.
I think COVID-19 and the climate emergency both pose terrifying threats and the response to both needs to be just as strong. This pandemic could be just the beginning. As temperatures warm and disease-carrying insects migrate out of their normal geographic area, diseases will rapidly spread to new areas. Now that the world has witnessed such a terrifying scenario, perhaps they will be more motivated to prevent another similar outbreak.
In the past months we have also seen how easily factories can be shut-down and emissions reduced. If we start progressing towards renewable energy now, we can’t significant decrease the emissions of greenhouse gasses when the pandemic is over. I hold onto the vain hope that once this pandemic is over and life returns to normal, people and governments will begin to take immediate action on the climate emergency.