Professor John Barry, ‘This is what a real emergency looks like: What the response to coronavirus can teach us about how we can and need to respond to the planetary emergency.’
John Barry is Professor of Green Political Economy and Director of the Centre for Sustainability, Equality and Climate Action at Queens University Belfast.
His areas of research include post-growth and heterodox political economy; green politics and ethics; the politics, policy and political economy of climate breakdown and low carbon energy transitions. His latest book is The Politics of Actually Existing Unsustainability: Human Flourishing in a Climate-Changed, Carbon-Constrained World (2012, Oxford University Press). He is co-chair of the Belfast Climate Commission, and was a Green Party councillor from 2011-2018.
Wednesday 9 December 2020, 4pm via MS Teams
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“Unlike the coronavirus, there have been official political declarations of ‘climate and ecological emergencies’ from in many parliaments in the EU, UK, Ireland, Canada, France and at sub-state level across dozens of countries. But, unlike the determined and swift actions of most governments around the world to the public health threat from Covid-19, there is little evidence of the same governmental determination to take radical and tough decisions on the climate and ecological crisis. Could it be that all these declarations of ‘emergencies’ are just that? Some ‘in tune’ public and ‘politically correct’ rhetoric and associated positive media coverage forced by mobilisations like Extinction Rebellion and the Youth Strike for Climate? Cheap talk about recognising there is an emergency…. But in reality not believing it really is? Why is it that our political leaders listen to and make decisions informed by the science in the case of coronavirus – closing schools, restricting travel, putting in place financial support for furloughed workers – but not when it comes to the planetary emergency?
Despite there being no direct ‘read across’ from the pandemic to the planetary emergency, there are surely lessons and insights and glimpses from responses to the pandemic as to what might work to speed and scale up climate action. Some of the changes to the daily lives of citizens we have witnessed, and actions by some states, could be viewed as ‘dry runs’ for the types of changes the 2018 IPCC report recommended when it stated that “limiting global warming to 1.5C would require rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society” (IPCC, 2018). They can also be seen as suspensions of ‘business as usual’, temporary and extraordinary measures deemed as necessary state actions (and largely so far accepted as necessary by populations) to meet and overcome the pandemic. This paper will consider lessons from the pandemic to thinking about responding to the planetary emergency, including a growing demand that in recovering from Covid-19 we should be seeking to ‘build back better’ and ensure a just and green recovery for the economy and not a return to ‘business as usual’. A decade ago in the wake of the global financial crisis there were calls and proposals for ‘green new deal’ – is the post-pandemic recovery another opportunity for a ‘just and sustainable transformation’ of local, national and global economies and societies? Has the pandemic opened the ‘Overton widow’ of possible public policy responses so that it is now possible to imagine the end (or radical transformation) of capitalism rather than the end of the world?"