Greta Thunberg: ‘We need to tackle two crises at once’

Planet Earth wearing a PPE mask
Image: cromaconceptovisual / Pixabay

Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg chose the 50th anniversary of Earth Day to add her voice to the push for society to “tackle two crises at once” — the COVID-19 pandemic and the climate crisis.

“Whether we like it or not, the world has changed; it looks completely different from how it did a few months ago, and it will probably not look the same again, and we are going to have to choose a new way forward,” she said on April 22.

The extraordinary measures to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus did not mean the climate crisis had gone away, Thunberg said, adding that we must “unite behind the experts and science”. “We young people are the least affected by this virus, but it’s essential that we act in the best interest of our common society.”

Thunberg’s climate organisation Fridays For Future has released a dramatic new video, Our House is on Fire, named after her stringing rebuke to world leaders at last year’s World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

“Let’s be clear. We don’t need a ‘low carbon economy’. We don’t need to ‘lower emissions’. Our emissions have to stop if we are to have a chance to stay below the 1.5-degree target. And, until we have the technologies that at scale can put our emissions to minus, then we must forget about net zero. We need real zero,” Thunberg said.

Improvements in air and water quality, as a result of the lockdown, have prompted United Nations secretary-general Antonio Guterres to call on governments to tackle the “even deeper emergency” of climate change. He warned governments against bailing out heavily polluting industries.

But the battle lines will be, as ever, between demands for “green stimulus” measures and the fossil fuel industry’s push for more coal, oil and gas.

In Australia, there are calls for the federal government to end its $47 billion a year subsidy to the fossil fuel industry and direct post-COVID-19 stimulus funding to renewable energy.

University of New South Wales professor of political philosophy Jeremy Moss said in the April 9 RenewEconomy that governments must reconsider the stimulus being handed to the fossil fuel industry. If the government really wants to lessen the impact of the coronavirus on Australians and save jobs, he said, it would reallocate these funds to sustain communities and create jobs, such as about 600,000 new hospital workers. Such a sum, Moss said, “would also help retrain or provide generous redundancy packages for the relatively small number of workers in fossil fuel industries and their dependent communities.

The Scott Morrison government is using the excuse of “snapping back” from the COVID-19 economic crisis to increase, not reduce, investment in fossil fuel industries.

The federal government has shortlisted projects and begun negotiations to support gas-fired plants in Victoria and Queensland, and has agreed to support the New South Wales government’s push for three gas projects. Independent federal MP Zali Steggall wants the auditor general to investigate the federal government’s moves, claiming they lack transparency.

Federal energy minister Angus Taylor wants a “gas-fired recovery” from COVID-19, claiming it would provide a faster start to the economy following the world-wide collapse of oil and gas prices. The federal-NSW memorandum is pushing for the state to raise the amount of gas available each year by more than 50%, to 70 petajoules.

Climate experts have repeatedly pointed out that the large scale escape of methane during the extraction process and from leaking well heads is just as bad, or worse, for the climate than coal, as methane is a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

On April 7, the Australian Greens tried to amend the federal stimulus measures to prevent some payments from being directed to companies involved in oil, gas and coal extraction. However, the amendments were voted down in the Senate.

The climate and labour movements face a big challenge to stop the federal and state governments from using the COVID-19 crisis as cover for expanding public subsidies to the toxic fossil fuel industry. Campaigns focused on large-scale public investment in renewable-energy-based projects are going to be critical.

Since it's inception, Green Left has consistently campaigned for an ecologically sustainable future to benefit people and the planet. As Thunberg has highlighted, this is needed now more than ever before. You can help GL campaign for clean energy and sustainable jobs in the post-COVID period by becoming a supporter, or making a donation to our Fighting Fund.

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