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Solving the pandemic crisis and climate change go hand in hand

May 5, 2020 8:17 PM
By Joe Dodd

liberty scales with text over background (©shutterstock)

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.

This article was originally published in LibDemVoice