To date, 2020 has rolled out as a disaster movie with too many plot lines. A global pandemic shuts down huge swaths of the economy. An oil price crash poses an “existential threat” to the industry. The climate emergency continues – at a slower pace than the pandemic but with greater long-term consequences for human health and Canada’s economy.
Give us your ideas for how governments should respond in the comment section below!
As the Covid-19 pandemic continues to spread worldwide, many of us are feeling anxious about the health of our families and friends, and the wider impacts of this public health crisis on society. During a time of uncertainty, it’s important for governments to step in and protect the people who will suffer most, both directly and indirectly. By thoughtfully targeting this response, we also have the opportunity to come out of this public health crisis set up for a better future.
The investments made by governments to respond to the pandemic and the oil price collapse could leave us more equipped to manage the ongoing climate and biodiversity crisis, which poses growing threats to people’s lives, health, livelihoods and wellbeing. They could support the shifts for industry and infrastructure to the demands of a new net-zero carbon economy. And they could make major improvements for everyday Canadians’ daily lives, jobs and incomes.
There were some hopeful signs in the Trudeau government’s initial $82 billion Coronavirus stimulus package, because there were a number of people-focused measures – like extending income support programs to workers not covered by employment insurance, boosting federal child support payments and support to Indigenous communities – that will help the most vulnerable stay afloat in the near-term. These were measures that could be implemented quickly because they were based on existing programs but there are still a lot of people who fall between the cracks and whose needs must be addressed.
The approach in the Canadian package stands in sharp contrast to U.S. proposals to cut payroll taxes (that disproportionately benefit the wealthy) and offer bailouts to the fracking and airline industries. The Canadian package does, however, include over $10 billion for corporate support via Export Development Canada and the Business Development Bank of Canada whose details and impacts are still to-be-determined.
In announcing the stimulus package, federal ministers stressed that this was simply Phase One – designed to tide people over the coming rough patch – in what is still a rapidly-evolving situation.
We will likely get a better idea of what the longer-term strategy looks like in next week’s federal budget. A key question we should be asking is whether the programs and priorities laid out in the budget seek simply to return to a ‘normal’ that no longer exists, or if they take a longer view and seek to prepare us for the challenges to come.
The mobilization to fight the virus shows that we can drastically transform our systems and societies to fight a threat. I lived through the 2008 economic crash, when governments spent trillions to bail out the finance industry insiders who took irresponsible risks and left the most vulnerable worse off. The coronavirus has exposed the systemic failings of the global economy, which we must address in order to tackle not just this crisis, but the climate crisis too.
Listen to what Naomi Klein had to say.
We will eventually emerge from social isolation (perhaps with a new appreciation of the role of governments, scientific expertise and mutual-care in communities), but we need to recognize that the oil markets are never going back to their pre-2014 glory days.
The current oil price collapse is in many ways a preview of what will happen over the coming decades as oil is replaced by renewable energy powering electric vehicles. Demand is dropping, and low-cost producers are opening the taps to protect their share of a shrinking pie.
Mark Carney, former Governor of both the Bank of Canada and the Bank of England, has been warning that climate change is a threat to the global economy for five years and that companies that fail to transition to a zero-carbon world will go bankrupt. Even ruthless capitalists like Blackrock (the largest asset manager in the world) see fossil fuels as a sunset industry.
Swimming against that tide would only take us deeper into the climate crisis and make our economy more vulnerable to climate action by others.
In the coming federal budget there will be a temptation – and a powerful lobby from the oil patch – to bail out the oil companies. We should instead, bail out their workers and all Canadians, by taking advantage of historically-low interest rates to launch a Green New Deal-style low-carbon recovery program.
This isn’t just a Greenpeace dream. Even the very-conservative International Energy Agency (IEA) is urging political and global financial leaders to design “sustainable stimulus packages” that focus on investing in clean energy technologies and accelerate the transition away from fossil fuels. According to the IEA’s Fatah Birol: “This is a historic opportunity for the world to, on one hand, create packages to recover the economy, but on the other hand, to reduce dirty investments and accelerate the energy transition.”
The coronavirus has exposed the systemic failings of the global economy, which we must address in order to tackle not just this crisis, but the climate crisis too.
The thing to remember here – to borrow a line from Canadian writer/activist Cory Doctorow – is that disasters don’t have to end in dystopias. When disaster strikes, we often find that our neighbors are not our enemies, but our mutual saviors and responsibilities. And out of these disruptions can come creative solutions that make our world a better, safer place.
While we mobilise public resources to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic, we must be careful not to wash our hands of the ongoing crises and injustices that already threaten people’s lives, health, wellbeing and livelihoods, including the climate and biodiversity crises. As the Lancet and World Health Organisation note, climate change is likely to have major consequences on infectious disease transmission. Just like Covid-19, climate change is an inequity multiplier that disproportionately affects society’s already most-vulnerable and marginalized. In these times of crisis, it’s critical that public funds flow towards strengthening the social and ecological systems that we depend on. Thinking ahead to prevent the next public health crisis means acting now to address existing injustice and the climate and biodiversity crises.
Now more than ever we need to work together and pool our resources for the public good. What do you think federal and provincial governments should be investing in? Add your ideas to the comments below and we’ll combine them with our own as we advocate for a strong response to these overlapping crises.