The current Covid-19 crisis is showing us many things. We are witnessing both the exercise of states’ power to enforce extremely restrictive measures to their citizens, as well as the wide acceptance of them among their populations. Those measures are justified, legitimized and accepted because they aim at protecting people’s health. Without a doubt, one of the most important fundamental rights.
How governments are facing the Covid-19 crisis may show us many things about how to deal with climate change. We can learn, for instance, some technical things. Preventing climate change requires the kind of leadership, coordination, and control that we are currently witnessing. It also requires, for instance, implementing measures that drastically reduce air traffic; as well as procedures that disincentivize the use of private transportation and encourage the use of bicycles in big cities. We can learn from this crisis some of the potential ways forward to change the business-as-usual of our economies for the sake of protecting people’s health.
We can also learn some argument strategies for supporting the importance of preventing climate change. In this vein, I think, there are some things we could learn about the way in which governments have framed the reasons behind the restrictive measures to stop the spread of Covid-19. On 10th March, the Austrian Prime Minister said that young people ‘like me’ (he was born in 1986) should take their responsibility towards old generations seriously because, in most cases, the virus will not be dangerous for themselves. Pedro Sánchez, Spanish Prime Minister, also asks for responsibility to the young to protect the elderly, as well as those most vulnerable to Covid-19. Various European and international leaders have framed the fight against Covid-19 as a question of intergenerational solidarity or intergenerational justice. The idea is that protecting ourselves against the virus is more an issue of public health and protection of those most vulnerable (mostly, the elderly, but also ill people) than a self-focused action. So, it is contributing to stopping climate change.
One of the most important things that we can learn from this crisis is the importance of undergoing extreme efforts to protect people’s lives, even when our own life not at stake. Protecting the vulnerable and the elderly seems to be taken as a weighty reason to undergo major changes in our lives and to sacrifice some economic gains. We, climate justice advocators, would be extremely successful if, after this crisis, we could convince people that halting climate change is also necessary to protect the most vulnerable. The difference is that the generation we would be protecting with our climate change-preventing measures is not the generation of our parents and grandparents, but rather the generation of our children and grandchildren. Arguably, most of the current measures are meant to be temporary and maybe even less costly than preventing climate change, but maybe we could also learn from this crisis that changing permanently our lifestyles and shifting our expenses for health-related purposes is not that hard and we are indeed willing to do so for the sake of (intergenerational) justice.
Hopefully, we can learn from this crisis that future generations’ fundamental right to health, as well as the elderly’s in this crisis, is in danger if we continue with our climate change-inducing business-as-usual socioeconomic practices. Hopefully, we can learn from this crisis that modifying our lifestyles is of utmost importance because what is at stake is the fundamental rights of people whose prospects of life depend upon our actions.