The Student
Opinion
This virus could be a wake up call for environmental change, if we let it

The COP26 summit is supposed to be a shining beacon of progress in the struggle against climate change, a moment to display how nations around the world are introducing reform to create greener, healthier and better economies and lifestyles but due to reasons I’m sure we can all extrapolate from current circumstances, it has had to be delayed until an unspecified date in 2021 – according to UK government ministers. This international conference was to take place in Glasgow, in November of this year with key events also taking place in Milan, Italy, and offered the chance to display Scotland’s progress towards one of the most radical targets in the world, reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2045 at the very latest. More than this, however, COP was an opportunity to share information between governments and people and to remind us of the targets we so desperately need to meet.

In the absence of COP it falls on us to make sure that this pandemic is not seen as an excuse to delay targets in any country across the world. As nations are trying to come to terms with this pandemic it has forced us all to work differently. We are now discovering that much of what was seen as essential work is not actually as vital to the health and wellbeing of those around us, meanwhile other work has become recognised as exponentially more important. The current crisis offers an opportunity to rearrange our economies and daily lives in ways which are better for the environment as we emerge from this. It is no surprise to hear that emissions across the world have plummeted over the last few weeks but that is temporary and can’t be seen as an excuse to continue on the way we have been for so many years. To claim credit for that would be akin to the Home Secretary taking pride in announcing that shoplifting has recently decreased…

What used to be done only a few months ago, in busy offices with packed car parks can be just as easily done from home. It is time to urge a transition away from packed office environments. Through video conferencing tools, the way we hold meetings has changed drastically and I would argue that this is something we should utilise as much as possible. I’m not arguing against human interaction, rather cautioning against the unnecessary crowding of people when they could be performing the same tasks from home. This virus is a wake-up call, not just in terms of health but also in ways we can pair working efficiently with protecting the environment. Obviously there are exceptions, there are always going to be jobs which cannot be done from home, and that is where the exception must be made; retail workers, those in the construction industry, manufacturers, healthcare workers, carers, much of the hospitality industry. These all require a large amount of physical interaction with people, but if we are to prevent the climate emergency from worsening and ensure that there is still a world worth handing to our eventual children and grandchildren, we must urge employers and governments to make changes where they can. 

We all know the statistics; there are just 100 companies which are believed to be responsible for over 70% of global emissions, but there is a solution to them as well. Tax the fuckers. If it is deemed possible for a company to make its operations more environmentally friendly and they choose not to, tax them higher, fine them if necessary. 

We need to institute a system where it is so economically un-viable for a company to rally against environmental legislation that it makes more sense to do everything feasible to protect the environment. This comes with the caveat that the Government must then fulfil its duty to assist companies in that transition. For as long as it is cheaper to use fossil fuels, or cheaper to use single use plastics, or cheaper to use harmful chemicals which leach into our lakes and the soil, or cheaper to fish a species to extinction than to do so sustainably. For as long as it is cheaper to make advertisements showing us they care about the environment instead of doing anything. For as long as this is the case, there is no real imperative for these corporations to change what they do. So, we must increase public pressure. We can try this on the companies, but our focus should be on influencing our governments, on the people who we elect and who are ultimately answerable to us. We must force them to bring about the change that our planet so desperately needs because there is no guarantee that they will do it on their own.

Whether it’s a transition to a 3 or 4 day working week in offices to start with, providing support for people to move as much of their work as possible to their homes, moving away from wasteful travel where possible until there are economically viable green alternatives, tracking and reducing how much food and energy we waste, ring-fencing current income from fossil fuels to subsidise the transition to a green economy or a carbon tax – this virus is our wakeup call. Yes, there are difficulties involved in implementing these policies and it will take time as well as a strong swing in public opinion to  achieve – but time is not something we can afford to waste right now, with most models agreeing that we have about 16 years left before we meet the IPCCs model for a 2℃ increase in global temperatures (not the best case scenario). Just as the black plague heralded the end of the feudal system, COVID-19 has shown us that we can – and must – make changes to our lives if we are to prevent something potentially much worse than anything we have witnessed during this global health crisis.

Image: NASA via Flickr