In this moment, there is no question that the government’s first priority should be to protect the vulnerable among us – those most at risk from Covid-19, and those already suffering from the financial impact of the crisis. And then they must protect our future.
Once we have defeated Covid-19, we will still have a climate crisis to tackle, oceans to protect, and forests to save.
But how do you protect both people and the planet at a time when the world feels like it’s been turned upside down? Answer: you do it all at once.
Firstly, bailouts for big business must come with conditions
Just like the economic crash of 2008, this crisis will shape our country for years to come. But in 2008, governments bailed out the usual suspects with public money – the banks and polluting industries that continued to destabilise our planet. There were no conditions on how the money was spent.
Fast forward to this week when the UK government just handed out a publicly funded, £600 million loan to EasyJet. This comes weeks after the owner of EasyJet received £60 million in profits – while the company also asked its staff to take unpaid leave.
We can do better than this. We need an economy that works for everyone – and our planet.
Reshape our economy
The government is putting together a stimulus package for the economy as we speak. It will involve spending money on a scale that we haven’t seen in decades. Experts agree that by the end of this crisis, our country and our economy will look very different, but which path will our government choose?
They could bow to the interests of big business, and funnel money towards big corporations, only for them to strip away existing environmental protections – just like Trump has with car manufacturers.
Alternatively, the government can choose to put people and the planet first, and put us on course for a smart, green economy that works for everyone.
While the government attempts to reset the economy, it may as well set in motion the resilient, fair and sustainable economy that we need. This means accelerating the transition towards clean energy, a sector that would provide well paid, lasting jobs.
Public money could be invested in truly energy efficient housing and a healthy food system. All of these can offer a better standard of living, as well as a proper response to climate change that we so desperately need.
And we know it’s possible, because some governments have already done it, right in the middle of their own Covid-19 crises. In March, South Korea’s ruling party embraced the idea of a comprehensive Green New Deal as part of their response.
Rising to the challenge
One thing that’s shone through during this crisis is the ingenuity of people as we rise to the challenges of this time.
Things we never thought possible have happened in a matter of days: government spending on a level we haven’t seen in decades, tens of thousands of food parcels delivered to clinically vulnerable people, and individuals have volunteered in their hundreds of thousands to support the NHS.
By clapping for carers on our doorsteps and from our windows, we found a way to be together, even though we must be physically apart.
As the government injects billions into the economy to keep it afloat, they too have a chance to approach our problems from new angles. Let’s call on them to rebuild better, and protect people and the planet for the long term.