Undoubtedly 2020 will go down in history as the year of the global COVID-19 pandemic. In this situation, how do we tackle a pandemic and ongoing climate crisis?
During a time when people all over the world gave up their democratic rights of free movement and interaction, often willingly, sometimes not, for the benefit of their own and the community’s health. There was widespread loss of jobs, and most of the world is expecting to go into recession or depression. In response, governments have provided enormous stimulus packages to enable people and businesses to survive, which will take years to repay.
As some countries start to “flatten the curve” of new cases and come out of “self-isolation” the question is: If the politicians of many countries can come up with sizeable economic stimulus packages to fight the emergency of COVID-19 at very short notice. Should it not be possible to divert some of this stimulus money into fighting the even greater crisis of climate change where many more people and livelihoods will be affected? The problem is how to tackle concerns that have impacts over such different time scales.
Considering that this will be a time in history that many in future will study in great detail, it is highly likely that people will want to know how we coped and felt; what we wanted from those in power, especially in the areas of health, the economy and climate change.
With this in mind and Carolina Garcia’s help, I have put together four questions, two of which I was asked at the end of a recent talk. I will answer the questions below, but I invite you, readers, to answer them as well.
Feel free to send us your answers via firstname.lastname@example.org, so that we get diverse views. Of course, answers may change as we move through 2020.
The questions below can relate either to impacts on personal life, local communities, or broader society.
1) When the pandemic ends, what recent changes do you want to hang on to? What do you want to get rid of?
2) What aspects would you like to return to?
3) Has your perspective of what genuinely matters in life changed?
4) What would you like the Government stimulus measures to address in terms of sustainability and climate change?
My answers are not very deep and meaningful. I hope those of others will be and that others inject a measure of light-heartedness.
I live in South Australia where COVID-19 restrictions are gradually being lifted as we have had “only” a total of 4 deaths since the pandemic began (at the time this article was written). We have had just one new case in over two weeks and only one active case remaining. We had very intensive monitoring, and social distancing program and our borders to other states have been shut down except for essential services. (Population of South Australia, 1.5M).
When the pandemic ends, what recent changes do you want to hang on to? What do you want to get rid of?
Although a bit “zoomed out” with online meetings and webinars, I have appreciated, especially at night during the onset of winter, not having to go to face to face meetings. It has saved me in petrol, parking fees, unwanted expensive meals and especially time. In the past, I have also travelled over 60 hours return Australia to Germany to attend a 2- or 3-day meeting. This year the conference took a few hours while I sat in comfort at home. However, I do not want all sessions to be online and miss the face to face contact and coffee and lunch/dinner meetings with friends and networking with overseas colleagues. But in future, I would like us to look more carefully at when face to face meetings are needed. One of the things I won’t miss is the panic buying at supermarkets, especially of toilet paper!
What aspects would you like to return to?
I have been quite impressed seeing the Australian Prime Minister and many State Premiers standing in front of TV cameras with their chief Medical Officers next to them and being respectful of their scientific knowledge and taking on their advice. I would like to see this behaviour continue with these political leaders confronting TV cameras with their Chief Scientists next to them and taking their advice on how to address Climate Change. Also, the popular media has been more balanced during this COVID-19 period in their reporting of the situation. Again, it would be great if the media reporting of climate change would not include the misinformation/disinformation that we have been subjected to in the past.
Besides, this has been a period globally of cleaner air, water and quieter surroundings. It would be good if these positives can be maintained through more use of renewable energy, more available access to public transport and improved energy efficiency.
Has your perspective of what genuinely matters in life changed?
One of the things I have appreciated and hope our family will continue with is our Friday evenings online games night, organised recently by my youngest daughter via Zoom to keep us all in touch since we can’t travel. We live very far apart from each other, in three different States and rarely get together. Now 11 adults, children plus close partners get together and have a fun time, for often 2 hours or more. We also get to hear what each other is doing and can virtually see each other. It has reinforced to me how important family is and how lovely it is to keep in contact. It has also made me realise how lucky we are and hope others who have lost jobs, loved ones and family interactions come out of this with good mental, physical and financial health.
What would you like the stimulus measures to address in terms of sustainability and climate change?
Since taxpayers, in the long run, will be paying for the stimulus measures – for many years to come, these should address the climate crisis through,
· Accelerating a just transition from fossil fuel to renewable energy jobs, especially in regional areas.
· Nominating the renewable energy industry and related infrastructure to be critical and essential sectors.
· Investing in more local manufacture.
· Reducing air pollution.
· Lowering electricity prices.
It would be nice to have our dear readers' responses to the above questions.
Monica Oliphant is a past president of the International Solar Energy Society (ISES), HQ in Freiburg.
Note: This article has been edited by SEE Creative Team member Merve Özcaner.