The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted health care systems and economies across the globe. In addition, existing inequalities among vulnerable and marginalized communities have come to the fore in this time of uncertainty.
While many have called our current situation the worst event of our time, in actuality, the worst is yet to come.
We are on track to experience unimaginable ecological destruction due to the human-driven climate crisis. To counter this and create genuine change, we must fight for a just and green recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The new abnormal
The pandemic limited international travel and reduced commuting due to work-from-home policies. These measures led to decreased human activity, resulting in a temporary drop in carbon dioxide emissions. We experienced re-emerging wildlife and soaring oil prices.
However, these recent phenomena have had little lasting impact on the climate crisis as a whole — reminding us that only systemic shifts will result in long-term change.
As corporations rush to make up for lost profits, we risk a future where high levels of pollution remain the status quo. In doing so, we can expect uncontrollable warming, extreme weather events, and worsening health outcomes.
Similarly, governments are desperate for the economy to bounce back from this period of low production. In recent years, the Canadian government has acquired pipelines and rolled back environmental protections in the name of strengthening the economy.
The recent approval of the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline in British Columbia will lead to an additional 400,000 tonnes of extra carbon emissions per year. This is in flagrant disregard of the Paris Agreement targets that Canada agreed to in 2016. Moreover, it has drastically affected Indigenous peoples’ land and way of life.
The Ontario government under Premier Doug Ford proposed Bill 197, which removes the need for an environmental assessment on new public infrastructure projects in an array of construction categories. Bill 197 also includes a clause that would deny public appeal on these projects.
The pandemic panic has been used to strip environmental protections for the purpose of expediency and convenience to stimulate growth.
Equity concerns amidst the climate crisis
The pandemic and its short-term beneficial effects on the environment serve as a reminder of just how destructive our pre-pandemic systems were. However, that’s not where the injustice ends.
Widening income inequalities, racial injustice, the lack of status for migrant labourers in Canada, and neglect for Indigenous rights are all symptoms of a larger governmental and societal disregard of vulnerable peoples.
The destruction that the climate crisis brings is not experienced evenly. Without a doubt, those who did the least to cause the climate crisis suffer the worst from it. All the while, multinational corporations who should be shouldering the burden of reversing the damage they have caused are free to take advantage of state subsidies and weak government regulations.
If we do not act on the climate crisis now, future generations who have so far done nothing to contribute to our current state will experience even more extreme effects than what we have already witnessed. Flooding, droughts, and violent storms have already been felt across the globe at a frightening rate, with a looming water crisis on the rise.
The Just Recovery movement calls for economic relief provided directly to people, assistance for workers and communities, and resilience building for future crises, both climate-related and otherwise. Without outspoken support for these measures, they will never be realized.
Global Day of Climate Action
As Canada and its economy reopens, it is imperative that we do not return to business as usual. In order to champion equity and the health and well-being of its people, Canada must prioritize a sustainable economy. We must all do our part to ensure that Ottawa and institutions like U of T cannot ignore these demands.
While COVID-19 dampens the ability to hold climate strikes and protests, the tentative solution for months was to move events online and even suspend them. However, climate activists around the world have said that in-person public demonstrations are crucial.
The climate crisis does not wait: we must take action now to mitigate its devastating effects. That is why Fridays for Future (FFF) Toronto, labour unions, and students’ associations are looking toward September 25, the next Global Day of Climate Action. Collective action on this day will allow us to drill home the necessity of a just and green recovery.
The FFF movement was started by 15-year-old Greta Thunberg in 2018, and has since spread around the globe. Toronto is no exception. FFF Toronto is committed to sending a message to policymakers and businesses, demanding a safer and sustainable future.
U of T students from a variety of programs and backgrounds have worked to build FFF U of T. Our organization serves the purpose of networking amongst student unions and clubs to increase student engagement in climate activism and raise awareness about the importance of Indigenous sovereignty — defending land, water and life, and youth empowerment.
The action on September 25 will be a mass sit-in to demand a just, green recovery from COVID-19. A variety of precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 will be taken, including mandatory mask-wearing, sanitization stations, and physical distancing.
Last year’s Global Climate Strike in Toronto saw a staggering 20,000 people march in support of climate activism. This year’s event offers our best chance to lobby the systems around us to reform sustainably.
James Hannay is an organizer with FFF Toronto and FFF University of Toronto. He is a fifth-year peace, conflict & justice, public policy, and economics student at Victoria College. Laura Hernadez is an organizer with FFF Toronto and FFF University of Toronto. She is a graduate student of urban innovation at UTM. FFF University of Toronto is a youth-led climate action organization that works to mobilize support for the Global Climate Strikes.