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The Covid-19 Pandemic and the Deepening Climate Crisis

The Covid-19 virus is an emergency. What can the Canadian climate justice movement learn from the ways in which our governments are responding to it?
In response to the economic contraction triggered by the covid-19 pandemic, the EI fund was boosted last week (among other measures). Today (March 13), a $10 billion credit facility was announced by the federal government to hold over Canadian businesses affected by lost sales. (This amount could be doubled.) The Bank of Canada is cutting its lending rate again and creating a new lending facility for businesses in trouble. The domestic stability buffer for Canadian banks is being lowered to 1 per cent, freeing $300 billion in additional lending capacity by the banks. A stabilization program is in the works for Alberta (and Saskatchewan?). Today’s announcements constitute, apparently, the second stage of a longer series of steps to be taken to respond to the pandemic.
Economist Jim Stafford points out (on CBC Radio’s emergency coverage of the emergency measures, this afternoon) that the $10 billion announced by Minister Morneau compares to the $200 billion that was made available by the Harper Govt to help businesses weather the 2008 financial crisis. Stafford joined calls from the labour movement for the immediate increase and extension of workers’ benefits.
Political ecologists and ecological economists, drawing on climate science and trends in fossil fuel extraction, have been saying for almost two decades that we could either plan economic degrowth or have it imposed upon us by the effects of global warming. Calls for “Green New Deals,” “Just Transition,” or “rapid transition to a post-carbon economy” (all different labels for the same thing) have been dismissed as unrealistic. They couldn’t be financed, it was said. “Fiscally responsible” governments are all about eliminating deficits and small government, neoliberals continue to say.  Incremental market adjustments would do the trick, claimed the liberals.  Yet, with a few cabinet meetings it can be decided that we are in the throes of a national emergency and credit can be generated for low-cost lending to businesses. Laid-off workers can be provided with more income. Purported neoliberals are now calling for “fiscal stimulus” for their oil-price-depressed local economies.
When a government can create, within days, financing on the scale of $200 billion to maintain the status quo, but cannot do the same to help build a new, more resilient and egalitarian economy–one that provides greater income stability for all–we must conclude that the problem is not the means, but the will, to act on the evidence of climate science.
As for the employment/income crisis in Alberta, I hope, personally, that the federal government will not give the UCP government control over a stabilisation fund that it would very likely use to further subsidize the fossil fuel corporations operating in the province.  Any such fund should be administered by an independent agency that includes experts on the impacts of climate science as well as civil society representatives in its governance body, and that has a green transition mandate.
At this juncture the Liberals have an opportunity to turn a crisis into solutions.  They should not miss another opportunity to explain to Canadians that the capitalist-growth-driven economy is driving us right past the point of no-return (return, that is, to a global warming threshold below 2 degrees). The existing economy is hurtling us toward a world with 200 million climate refugees by mid-century, and we are already struggling to resettle 6 million refugees from the Middle East and African conflicts.
The covid-19 virus is a small test-run for what is coming, if we don’t make radical changes now. Remember that, in addition to climate science’s predictions of collapses in food production and marine environments (the latter already well advanced), there is a whole field of research related to the effects of global warming on disease vectors and other determinants of pubic health. We can mobilize the public financing now for a planned transition, or, we can react spasmodically to crisis after crisis in the years ahead, at the cost of immense suffering and—very likely—growing political authoritarianism.
Laurie Adkin, Professor of Political Science, University of Alberta, March 13, 2020

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