So this is what an emergency looks like

So now we know what an emergency looks like.  Government takes swift and decisive action; they listen to the scientists, basing their policies and strategies entirely on the science; they pass swift laws that compel the public to radically change their lifestyles; they scrap the budget they had planned and break all their fiscal discipline, spending countless billions of pounds in the attempt to save lives and safeguard a future economy.

Yet in May 2019, after passing a motion of Climate Emergency, none of these things happened. 

After decades of equivocation, lip service is being paid to the scientists, but the few policies set out in their manifesto do little to enable us to reach our carbon zero target; the budget offered little incentive to clean energy and nothing to promote any changes of lifestyle amongst the electorate; there are no daily, weekly, or even annual briefings to inform the public of what progress we are making towards our targets; no charts, no graphs, no ministers held accountable on prime time television…

So what is the difference? The pandemic is sudden, acute and threatens life over a period of days and months. A vaccine is likely within a year or a few months, after which we can return to normal. 

Global heating develops over years and decades; the lives lost are mostly a long way away and we feel insulated from them, but there is no technological quick fix and there will be no ‘normal’ to return to if we don’t take far reaching actions now.

The secret of beating the coronavirus was listening to the science from the outset; taking swift and dramatic action; showing leadership to persuade the public to make immense sacrifices in the short term.  The costs in lives, money, wrecked businesses and unemployment are far greater if our leaders fail in this.

The secret of halting the destruction of our environment would have been to listen to the science 25 years ago; to have taken steady, incremental action from that time, led by the science; and to have incentivized the public to switch to more sustainable lifestyles for the benefit of their children.

So why has there been this massive difference? Maybe because there is no powerful lobby speaking up for the virus, while there has been a very powerful lobby, deeply invested in fossil fuels, that has manipulated our politicians and controlled much of our media. 

The one thing both the virus and environmental catastrophe have in common, though, is that our children will be paying the cost.