Nature never sleeps: let’s not let COVID19 nip the EU Green Deal in the bud
This editorial is also available in French.
The immediacy of the crisis posed by the pandemic causes a range of emotions from anxiety to panic, anger and even confusion. Seemingly, out of nowhere, it has seized the planet’s consciousness and focus and, as tragedy often does, seems to unite more than separate us.
Another intermittent reaction many of us experience, to cope and to make sense of it all, is to step back and reflect – not to diminish the urgent drama unfolding so rapidly, but to try to regain some sense of perspective by putting our rational selves back in the saddle.
Even as I grieve for my beloved Lombardy and worry about my family and friends, my entire professional life and my personal bent is to analyse and to use science and coherent policy development to offer a response, a way forward, and hope.
Most of our governments and political leaders are responding, often too slowly, with the necessary and very difficult decisions to confine and quarantine us, as well as throw the massive logistical and financial resources at their disposal into the fight. This is what must be done.
At the same time, however, I cannot help but raise a corollary yellow flag of caution. Suffering from a common enemy in the moment does not remove the Catch 22 of conventional retrograde forces from the battlefield. Let us not be naïve to the eternal presence of profiteers in times of war.
We cannot risk brushing off the biodiversity emergency
In my particular, very modest, corner of trying to improve the lot of humankind on earth, I concentrate on the ravages we have wrought on her – as exemplified at the most existential level in the twin crises of climate breakdown and biodiversity loss. The European Union and its European Commission, as well as governments around the world, have awakened to this. Just as the pandemic struck, they were at the cusp of taking the significant steps essential to reverse the foolhardiness of our behaviour.
A European Green Deal has been prioritised by Commission President von der Leyen and Commissioners Timmermans and Sinkevičius. This is unprecedented, and essential to our future survival. And, of course, the forces in society which profit from business as usual, whether they be industrial agriculture, the fossil fuel industry, corporate fishing fleets – all pursuing their selfish agendas of profit over planetary sustainability – these forces united very rapidly to undermine, weaken and sabotage those elements of the Green Deal which threaten their personal pocketbooks.
Keep your eyes on the ball - profiteers never waste a good crisis
While declaring their commitment to the collective goal of halting the climate crisis, they have been relentlessly working to ensure that the Green Deal ends up as just a greenwashed façade for business as usual. And now, in the midst of the gathering sanitary tragedy, they are raising their voices asking to drop the Green Deal “to focus on the real crisis” and are exploiting the crisis to clamour for both extra subsidies and a holiday from environmental safeguards.
The significant emergency aid we shall throw, we must throw, at society, to support the fragile among us, the small business folks, the hourly workers, the small farmers and fishers, the homeless and the sick, must not be hijacked by powerful corporate interests feeding at the trough of the crisis. If we are to augment their direct support with parallel support to the large corporations who are also challenged by Covid19, that corporate support must be dispensed transparently, with strings attached such that employees, customers and fairness are privileged, not just the preservation of stock values and bottom lines. And just as important, it must help business move into a better future, not lock them into mistakes of the past.
The aid we as taxpayers will be showering over the economy must flow in lockstep with the principles and values of the still essential Green Deal – sustainability, decarbonisation, the circular economy, equity and justice, restoration and preservation of our ecosystems – these are the enduring pillars of our survival to be strengthened as we battle the pandemic – we can and we must do both simultaneously. This pandemic shall pass, but our planetary ecological problems will endure. Only an integrated and coherent set of solutions will both make economic and moral sense.
Nature and people deserve better
Covid19 did not emerge from a vacuum. It is not a coincidence that the most likely origin of this pandemic has been the wildlife trade that is pushing so many species to the brink. These extraordinary disruptions, be they pandemics or climate or extinctions, in the supposedly natural order of things are largely, in fact, predictable, as nature responds and makes its way forward in response to the outrages and assaults our species imposes on her with our insatiable appetites and selfish instincts. Even as we mourn our losses and grieve, let us honour them with wiser choices. Let us do better, we can do better, we must do better.