The notion that “nature is healing” was inescapable during the peak of lockdown, providing many with a sense of hope that despite its rattling disturbance to the lives of all, perhaps there would be a positive side. Images of clear water flowing in Venice, mentions of the ability to hear birds singing and a noticeable improvement in air quality in usually bustling cities were rife on social media feeds, with thanks to the lack of cars on the road and a standstill in manufacturing and daily life. The optimistic “maybe humans are the virus and COVID is the vaccine” may have been a nice idea to cling on to, in search of some sort of purpose to attach to a pandemic that has claimed the lives and livelihoods of many. Though these improvements were nothing to sneer at, with a 17% decrease in the mean carbon emissions from April 2020 to the mean in 2019, it appears that these aren’t likely to last.
China, among the first countries to lock down when the virus hit, in its return to business as usual, saw a spike above pre-Covid-19 levels of emissions, with an eventual stabilisation to normal. This has provided us with a glimpse into what our future could be like without the necessitation of a green recovery, urging us to take the opportunity to challenge the power structures in place that are preventing a greener society. The large economic disturbance of the pandemic has opened the door for potential change, with the urge for a Green New Deal and a sustainable and fair recovery for the environment and the people within it being warranted like never before.
“The support of the Green Party is yet another example of the cognitive dissonance that the affluent but eco-conscious may seek, with a disappointing previous track record within government and little regard for social justice, whilst regaling platitudinous promises of sustainability goals and infrastructural fixes.”
In recent years, a cult-like obsession with superficial sustainability has taken root, seeing the growth of an industry of green consumerism in the form of KeepCups, metal straws, and wooden toothbrushes. This reliance on a different type of consumerism is the epitome of middle-class eco-consciousness cleansing without having any suppressive effect on overproduction and exploitation that is wreaking havoc on the planet. The support of the Green Party is yet another example of the cognitive dissonance that the affluent but eco-conscious may seek, with a disappointing previous track record within government and little regard for social justice, whilst regaling platitudinous promises of sustainability goals and infrastructural fixes.
The Green Party’s history within the government, along with the decision to form a coalition with Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, has made recent waves as it has driven a wedge between the older guard holding seats in previous cabinets, and the younger wing that acknowledges the need for social equality and political reform goes hand in hand with climate justice. The recent exodus of key young Green Party members has shown a surge in disapproval of party leader Eamon Ryan, with Saoirse McHugh, who left in July, tweeting that the coalition government “will do massive damage to environmentalism by linking it with socially regressive policies”. In the face of the pandemic with a recession looming, the timing for the young members to call out the Green Party for their refusal to hold large corporations and complacent centre-right parties accountable for the climate crisis couldn’t be more apt.
In contrast with this, the recently established Just Transition Greens, a left-green organisation splintered from the Green Party, aims to campaign for workers rights, tenants’ rights and better healthcare, with an aim to be zero-carbon by 2050. This organisation has the potential to appeal to and take on the younger generations and students, who understand climate change as a broader political issue.
“it is necessary for the Covid-19 fiscal stimulus to be invested into green industries, with a view that the younger generation affected financially by the crisis will not have to pay back the overwhelming financial debt incurred by the virus, as well as having to deal with the fallout of the climate crisis.”
The path to a green recovery from Covid-19 is a long and winding one, especially with the battle against the virus taking priority. However, it is necessary for the Covid-19 fiscal stimulus to be invested into green industries, with a view that the younger generation affected financially by the crisis will not have to pay back the overwhelming financial debt incurred by the virus, as well as having to deal with the fallout of the climate crisis. There is now an urgent need for a green new deal in Ireland, one that can ensure our future.
A green new deal could include positive allocation of resources to preserve biodiversity and lower emissions, as well as structural reform to help reverse societal inequalities. Consolidating workers rights instead of employing austerity measures that target the working class, like water charges under the guise of environmental necessity, will allow for a just transition. A green new deal may be ambitious, but in light of the pandemic, as it appears the youth of the Green Party know, it may be the perfect time to start prioritising the economic inequality in society that goes hand in hand with climate change, and begin to enact the reforms that Covid-19 has opened the door for.