Here’s why we shouldn’t celebrate the environmental ‘wins’ caused by coronavirus

Here’s why we shouldn’t celebrate the environmental ‘wins’ caused by coronavirus

In recent weeks, more and more countries have implemented lockdowns and social distancing in response to COVID-19. 

This is having some surprising positive effects:

    • Scientists and doctors are working together, across global boundaries, to focus on and solve one problem. We’re witnessing what’s possible when humans work together

    • Communities are pulling together and supporting each other. People are embracing new ways of working, giving more space to wellbeing in their day and reconnecting

    • In the UK, people are acknowledging the value of vocations which the government has consistently underfunded – such as teachers and nurses

 

  • Nature is healing. Posts about the clear waters in Venetian canals are trending, dolphins have reportedly returned to the waterways in the city, and air pollution in China has dropped because factories have been closed.

 

Many sustainability-focused brands have taken to sharing these good news stories about nature to encourage more positivity, and some environmentalists are praising this as an example of what’s possible when we slow down and change the way we work.

But all of this has come at a huge cost. 

There has been massive loss of life and the death toll continues to rise daily. Vulnerable people are worried for their lives, jobs and security. There continues to be major economic disruption and damage, and people are experiencing isolation and loneliness as they practice social distancing.

The systems set up to protect the most vulnerable in society – like food banks – are struggling to maintain consistency in their service, and are likely to see a rise in demand as people are unable to work.

Panic buying and stockpiling has emptied the shelves, leaving retail workers open to daily abuse in their place of work, and putting low income families at risk, as those without the income available to stockpile are unable to access the basic resources they need.

The most vulnerable people in society will pay the highest price throughout this crisis.

Those of us with more security are in a privileged position – we can work from home, adapt our lifestyles and embrace this as a time to invest in personal development.

As a sustainable brand, it’s tempting to continue creating environmentally-focused content and promoting the positive impacts this situation is having on the planet, because some people have more space available to hear our message and take action right now.

But we must remain mindful of the global situation and ensure we don’t cross into ‘eco fascist’ territory.

‘Eco fascism’ refers to the use of fascist methods (such as violence, misinformation and subjugation) to achieve ecological goals like climate action and conservation.

It often presents itself in conversations about the impact of overpopulation on the environment – making groups of people with higher birth rates (such as those in developing countries) a scapegoat for climate problems – without acknowledging the impact of colonialism, or the fact that wealth is the strongest indicator of a person’s carbon footprint because of consumption.

When we celebrate the environmental ‘wins’ created by coronavirus, we enter into the same territory.

Eco fascism doesn’t seek to challenge the power structures that created climate change – it just punishes those most vulnerable within them.

Clean air, biodiversity and a thriving natural world doesn’t require death, lockdown, anxiety and pain for the most vulnerable – but that’s exactly how we’ve achieved the current environmental ‘wins’ we’re celebrating on social media.

And when we celebrate these in the context of encouraging people to consider what’s possible for the environment, the underlying context is that the pain, suffering and death that caused them is a price it’s ok to pay – even if that’s not what we intended when we hit the share button.

What we’re really witnessing is the devastating impact of a broken system. 

There are many parallels to the climate emergency, and lots of lessons to be learned, but it requires a complex conversation about the entire system – which we can’t address properly while we’re in crisis mode

We already knew that less flying, closing factories and embracing remote working where possible would be positive for the planet. We already have all the resources and solutions we need to solve the climate crisis – we didn’t need a global pandemic to prove that they would work.

There are better ways to achieve these results, that don’t come at a cost to society’s most vulnerable.

And unfortunately, these positive environmental impacts are likely to be temporary. 

Corporations and governments will be keen to go back to “business as usual” for the sake of the economy, and it’s highly likely that long-term, the impact of coronavirus will actually be a setback to zero-carbon transitions. 

Whenever economic growth is prioritised, historically we’ve seen environmental agendas take a back seat, and we may well see that happen again.

This crisis has shown us what human beings are capable of when we work together, and how quickly our planet can heal when it’s given a chance.

But it’s not a cause for celebration.

As a sustainable brand owner, you might be struggling to know what to post on social media right now. 

Good news stories about nature might feel like light relief, and a gentle way to spread a little positivity – but there is a wider societal context behind the environmental movement that we all need to be aware of. 

Especially those of us who hold privilege in this space.

The time will come for wider conversations about systemic change, but right now the most vulnerable people are struggling and suffering.

The best thing you can do as a brand owner is seek out ways to help. 

Amplify other voices if you’re not sure what to say. 

Only sell what’s truly needed, and make your community a safe space for everyone – not just those who hold privilege. 

You don’t know who in your audience is struggling, feeling lonely or anxious or who has lost loved ones as a result of coronavirus. You may feel like celebrating nature’s good news is a harmless way to spread a little positivity, or raise much needed climate awareness, but it could have a negative impact on followers who have been directly affected by COVID-19.

If this means taking a break from posting and selling because you feel uncomfortable, then it’s ok to press pause for a while, if you’re able to do so. 

If you do still need to sell because your business is financially vulnerable, then that’s ok too. But it’s important to recognise that your messaging might need to shift and change. 

Whenever we talk about sustainability, we need to be mindful that environmentalism has a dark side, and we must be careful not to give space to eco fascist agendas.

Sustainability is about creating a better world for everyone, nature included.

For more on this topic, read this piece by Eric Holthaus.

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