A Predictable Pandemic


 Just like the economic crash of 2008, this crisis will shape our country for years to come. There were no conditions on how public resources were directed to repairing the Economic Crisis of 2008 but vast fortunes of our money were delivered to support the financial institutions. In 2008 after the financial crisis only 12% of bail out funds went into anything green. To rebuild government finances the path chosen as we all know was 10 years of austerity, so we paid for the banks risk taking with reduced spending in all sectors of society, from Local Authorities,  schools, community services, libraries, elderly community support, and critically the NHS. Meanwhile the banks did exceptionally well as did other corporates.  In rebuilding the economy after this pandemic crisis, it must be driven by public money for public good. This is critical  to start the Green Transition; a green road to recovery. One example, the £27Bn earmarked now for road building should be put into broadband development and equipping our housing stock to make better use of energy resources. More working locally, less commuting. We need changing mindsets, some of which is already happening and it is clear that the aviation industry will change. Car usage, especially in cities will reduce as more cycle lanes and more versatile public transport will replace cars.

The government’s response to the pandemic will impact every aspect of our society, our own lives and the global economy. A stimulus package to inject billions into the economy is being put together by the government to support industry and workers’ livelihoods, but the current plans could prop up the most polluting companies like the oil and airline industries without any conditions. We need an economy that works for everyone – and our planet. So what should we do?

Firstly, bailouts for big business must come with conditions appropriate to the age. Just as in the economic crash of 2008, this crisis will shape our country for years to come. But in 2008, governments bailed out the usual suspects with public money – the banks and polluting industries that continued to destabilise our planet. There were no conditions on how the money was spent. Fast forward to this week when the UK government just handed out a publicly funded, £600 million loan to easyJet. This comes weeks after the owner of easyJet received £60 million in profits – while the company also asked its staff to take unpaid leave. We can do better than this. We need an economy that works for everyone – and our planet.

 Reshape our economy: 

We need to direct our government to invest public money for public good – and build a cleaner, more resilient system that benefits us and our children.

A healthy planet needs our government to put us on course for a smart, clean economy that works for everyone – one that provides well paid, sustainable jobs, protects nature and offers a safer, more resilient future for us all. The government is putting together a stimulus package for the economy as we speak. It will involve spending money on a scale that the world has not seen in decades. Experts agree that by the end of this crisis, our country and our economy will look very different, but which path will our government choose? They could bow to the interests of big business, and funnel money towards big corporations, only for them to strip away existing environmental protections – just  like Trump has with car manufacturers. Alternatively, the government can choose to put people and the planet first, and put us on course for a smart, green economy that works for everyone.

While the government attempts to reset the economy, it may as well set in motion the resilient, fair and sustainable economy that we need. This means accelerating the transition towards clean energy, a sector that would provide well paid, lasting jobs. Public money could be invested in truly energy efficient housing and a healthy food system. All of these can offer a better standard of living, more meaningful purpose in our lives as well as a proper response to climate change that we so desperately need.  And we know it is possible, because some governments have already done it, right in the middle of their own Covid-19 crises. In March, South Korea’s ruling party embraced the idea of a comprehensive Green New Deal as part of their response.

We’re living through one of the most challenging moments in recent global history. Not only must we protect the most vulnerable among us from Covid-19 and the impacts of the pandemic, but we must also protect our future from further climate change. Now is the time for ingenuity like we’ve never seen before.

We are experiencing 3 crises in one, all complex, all interconnected.

  • Health
  • Climate
  • Nature

 Historian Peter Turchin has described a strong statistical association between global connectedness, social crises and pandemics throughout history. An example is the second century CE, when the Roman and Chinese empires were at the peak of their wealth and power; the poor in both places were very poor, and the ancient silk routes were enjoying a heyday. Starting in 165CE, the Antonine plagues struck Rome; within a decade plague was devastating China too, and both empires then went into decline.

The plague of Justinian in the 6th century and the Black Death in the 14th century emerged in similar circumstances, and Turchin sees the same forces at work again today: globalisation, leading to the emergence of new human pathogens, combined with widening inequality. “And now it looks like our Age of Discord got its own pandemic,”

Health: This particular pandemic has arisen most probably from a wild animal virus transfer. All the recent virus outbreaks that have hit the headlines, from SARS, MERS, Ebola and now COVID have come through the encroachments of wild lands by intensive farming especially poultry, pigs, and cattle, forestry destruction and the growing of soya and palm oil for consumer products. The origin of pandemics in Africa, the Amazon and America are well documented

There is an ongoing destruction of ecosystems accelerated by a growing world population, increasing expectations, urbanisation, and poor land management. Only more worldwide leadership in better practices will contain future pandemic risk. Whether it be forests, grasslands, marine environments, or the air we breathe, all need better protection. We know immune systems are compromised by pollution, and as a society we are compromising many life sustaining ecosystems of the planet.

We know one priority area of our modern life that needs urgent change and that is the way in which  food is sourced. Already with lockdown food choices have changed, more fruit and vegetables, more home cooking from basic ingredients, less processed food. We will be looking at how animals are treated, mega farms for pigs, chickens and beef cattle will change.

 One thing that has shone through during this crisis is the ingenuity of people as we rise to the challenges of this time. Things we never thought possible have happened in a matter of days: government spending on a level we have not seen in decades, tens of thousands of food parcels delivered to clinically vulnerable people, and individuals have volunteered in their hundreds of thousands to support the NHS.  We have witnessed this on Arran.

Climate: When this current crisis is over, we should not allow governments and big companies to simply return to their old ways. Together, we need to keep up the pressure so they listen to what our planet and nature is telling us. The choices made by governments in the coming weeks and months, as they pour billions or even trillions into an economic stimulus, could be the turning point that brings a more resilient future for everything that lives on our planet. Support for renewable industries, for local production of healthier food and more durable products, will help protect the climate and the places nature needs to thrive. In this is a time of unprecedented uncertainty and it is more important than ever that we come together and find a new way forward.

The UK’s efforts to cut greenhouse gases are being undermined by a failure to put in place climate policies that cover imports, research has found. The government is committed to cutting the UK’s carbon output to net zero by 2050, and emissions have been falling for three decades. But that does not take into account the “invisible” side of Britain’s carbon footprint, which comes from international travel and the carbon produced overseas to make goods sold here. About half of Britain’s true carbon footprint is made up of these sources, according to a report from the WWF. Such emissions have risen from about 316m tonnes of CO2 in 1990 to 360m tonnes in 2016 and 358m tonnes in 2017. These imported emissions vary from year to year, but have been broadly steady or rising, though they are down from a peak of 449m in 2007. Over the same period, the UK’s own carbon emissions fell by more than 40%, thanks mainly to a switch away from coal-fired power to gas and renewable sources of electricity.

Policies to ensure imported goods had a lower carbon footprint – such as requirements on the repairability and recycling of electronic goods – could reduce the invisible footprint, said John Barrett, professor of energy and climate policy at the University of Leeds. Exporters would have an incentive to reduce their footprint, and emissions associated with their goods. Other changes could also help, such as encouraging a move to a healthier diet with more vegetables and less meat could reduce the impact of food imports, said Barrett.

Climate change is already harming peoples’ lives, but those effects are not being felt equally around the world. People in poorer countries and communities are facing the brunt of the crisis. Climate justice means balancing the scales, repairing the damage to these people’s lives but also holding those most responsible for the climate crisis to account.

Global temperatures have already risen by 1ºC, hitting those people least equipped to respond. Millions of people are experiencing food insecurity following unprecedented droughts and storms. Summer temperatures reach up to 51°C in parts of India and Pakistan, causing serious health problems. Diseases are spreading and crops are failing in Guatemala, while glacier melt threatens villages in Peru. Sea water ingress due to over-extraction of groundwater poisons peoples’ farms in Bangladesh, forcing them off the land and into the cities. Here, they are often forced to take on gruelling, low paid work. In rural parts of Kenya, women travel further and further to get access to safe water. Whether it is flooding in the UK, storms in Malawi, or floods in Indonesia, extreme weather is becoming increasingly frequent and ferocious. In places like Tuvalu, Fiji, and Papua New Guinea some communities are losing their homes and livelihoods to the rising sea.

Climate change impacts the poorest more than the wealthy. These impacts are felt globally, but wherever we are, our ability to cope depends on what is in our purse.  While those most responsible for climate change are relatively insulated from its impacts, those least responsible are stripped of basic freedoms and dignity. They have to survive ever greater adversities with increasingly limited resources. Research by Oxfam shows that the world’s richest 10% of people are responsible for 50% of emissions. This group also commands over half of the world’s wealth, and most live in the so-called “developed” world. The world’s poorest 50% of people contribute approximately 10% of global emissions and receive about 8% of global income. Data from the World Bank show that the average person in the UK emits 65 times more carbon compared to someone in Malawi. US, Canadian and Australian citizens emit over 150 times more. These (already unbelievably disproportionate numbers) do not account for the carbon emissions built into making and shipping the technology we’re using, the food that we’re eating, or clothes we’re wearing. At the same time, the sixth poorest country in the world, Mozambique, shoulders the burden of over $3.2 billion in loss and damage following two unprecedented cyclones in 2019. According to Civil Society Review, the global bill for damage related to climate change suggest it is likely to hit $300-700 billion by 2030.

Climate justice will balance the scales. The same report also suggests that sharing the damage cost fairly would mean at least 50% for the US and EU (including the UK), 10% for China, and 0.5% for India. But these numbers cannot do justice to the pain of a hungry child, separated family, or dislocated community.

Repairing the consequences of climate change is crucial. But, it is not enough. Climate justice also means transitioning away from the system that has got us here so that we can try to limit warming below 1.5°C. It also means starting now and not relying on false or future technology solutions to save us.

Accepting timelines for future action keeps business running as usual today, risking a 4°C future where no one will be able to escape impacts. Those that live in such a world will be forced into survival mode. As we move to a low carbon world, those with the greatest responsibility for having got us here need to be held to account. That is starting with the fossil fuel, agribusiness, cement and concrete, and mining/smelting industries, plus their financial backers. This is particularly important given that just 100 companies are responsible for 71% of global emissions. Yet they keep getting government handouts and capital from private banks to fund new coal, oil and gas ventures. But things can change…For example The Danish Oil and Natural Gas Company, once known as Dong Energy –since 2010 has successfully transformed itself into Orsted, a renewables-led utility. Offshore wind is the flag-bearer for its new identity, but biomass conversions and acquisitions also play a part. Not only has Orsted gone green, it has also seen increased earnings. Since its initial public offering in 2016, the firm’s market capitalization has outperformed its old oil and gas foes. Orsted now sits close to the top when compared to its new utility peers. What made this possible was a pivot to renewables, and particularly to offshore wind. In fact, the firm is now Europe’s leading offshore wind developer.

Our government must stop saying they are committed to climate action while handing out money to the perpetrators of global breakdown.

Things are changing,  for example Zoom, no matter what you think of its capture of our data, has in a very short time acquired a stock market value greater than all the US airlines together. We must seize the chance to change lifestyles, corporate power and it is critical we intervene in our society going forward. In many ways the bail out of airlines is ridiculous. But as in any crisis there will be organisations profiting from COVID-19, just as we saw in 2008. In UK Politics, we must aim for zero carbon economy by 2040. Moving away from yet more austerity to a world we want and need. We need policies to back up this strategy; for example a radical transformation in modes of transport in the 15 worse polluted cities in the UK. The UK is desperate for leadership which is bold, strategic as the status quo will not do for the future of this country. We may also need new institutions. So how can we build on the fact that these last 5 weeks the country has been run differently? What are your ideas…the politicians need to be fed new and radical ideas?  We need hope for the future, solutions and vision as to what we can build out of this tragedy.

What the UK does not need, which could result, is a Trumpian nightmare, and isolationism.  We need to build international cooperation, as this pandemic is the same for everyone. We need broad coalitions and build a green future with other groups. We know mindset change is difficult so we need to reach hearts and minds. There will be a whole set of tipping points to overcome the inertia of slipping back into the old ways. Everything is in flux. It is almost as if the whole world is going into rehab, we can make different choices about our habits.

Rising to the challenge One thing that has shone through during this crisis is the ingenuity of people as we rise to the challenges of this time. We have seen it in the making of face masks at kitchen tables on Arran, to the working together of research and industry to find a vaccine. Things we never thought possible have happened in a matter of days: government spending on a level we have not seen in decades, tens of thousands of food parcels delivered to clinically vulnerable people, and individuals have volunteered in their hundreds of thousands to support the NHS.

What is the Green Finance Institute? Established in 2019, the Green Finance Institute is an independent, commercially focused organisation, supported by seed funding from HM Treasury, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the City of London Corporation. The message from  the chair Sir Roger Gifford,  a senior banker at Skandinaviska Enskilda Banken (SEB) and 685th Lord Mayor of the City of London is stark.  The financial consequences of climate change are becoming increasingly apparent. Extreme weather is already causing billions of pounds of damages, not in the future, not tomorrow, but now. The situation demands prudent, thoughtful, and urgent action for a transition. But time is running out. More local, greener, post COVID world, less dirty shipping, less business flights. The message is clear: a better, cleaner, safer world. You can make a difference. Latch onto the good things…have hope, greener cities, public parks, bluer skies. The transition will be a monumental undertaking. It will be the single greatest social and economic transformation in human history. In the UK alone, every sector of the economy must evolve. From construction, to manufacturing, to transport, to services, we all have a role to play to realise a net zero carbon future. Sir Roger states that “Finance is being called to serve”. The transition demands an immense reallocation of capital. And that reallocation demands a new kind of finance – green finance, which prices environmental risk into decisions taken by banks, by investors, and ultimately, by individuals. This new way of thinking will reset incentives across the economy and empower individuals to finance the sustainable future they are asking for. It will ensure we look beyond the risks, to the opportunity the future presents.

It is to capitalise on this opportunity that the Green Finance Institute has been launched. It will operate at the interface of the public and private sector. The scale of the low carbon transition demands that finance must work closely with policymakers, and with businesses. We must all come together to mobilise capital to accelerate the domestic and global transition to a zero-carbon and climate-resilient future. Over the coming months, the Green Finance Institute will begin to scale its efforts to transform the financial system and the wider economy. It is are just getting started. But there has never been a better time to engage in the green agenda.


We already have the solutions. Moving to open and accessible renewable energy, protecting the marine environment, restoring forests and shifting to sustainable agriculture, more local food will not only address the climate and nature emergencies, it will reverse the gross imbalance between rich and poor, those who can afford to adapt and those who cannot. When storms and other impacts hit, countries on the frontline of climate change should be supported, rather than being pushed further into debt. The International Institutions need our support. Some of the positives of this pandemic, have been the creativity of volunteers, and the chance with time to reflect  and to reconnect the natural world that supports human life. The opportunity to fight for a sustainable natural world is coming.

It is only by taking people and the planet off the stock market, and having a vision for flourishing communities beyond GDP growth, that we can do this. Addressing the climate crisis gives us the opportunity and mandate to reorient our societies towards protecting our human rights and repairing political, social and economic inequalities.

I was struck by the piece in the paper about Amazon; it is seeing business boom. The online retailer, already a one-stop shop for many people, has seen customers flock through its virtual doors in the weeks since coronavirus hit. The site is experiencing an extended period of sales at the level usually reserved for the shopping frenzy of Black Friday, with reported surges reaching £8,800 per second. Its share price is booming, too, making its already rich founder, Jeff Bezos, even richer. But while the site offers everything you could need at the moment, from food to films, via fish tanks and photo frames, there are many who feel uncomfortable about adding to its dominance. Concerns about its treatment of workers, how little tax it pays and its impact on smaller retailers are not new, but this crisis has shone the spotlight on them again. Seeing the photo of Brodick Post Office laden with parcels made me wonder. What will happen after we are unlocked? So for communities on islands like Arran and I suspect small communities everywhere, far from a large city, will the residents continue the pattern of ordering by post from the likes of Amazon? There is fear for the future, in these communities for their jobs returning, their local services, already decimated by austerity; what will happen afterwards to tourism, education, elderly services?  Will the web overtake everyone?  Will Amazon as a result, through our use, lead to closure of our  shops and amenities? A second clearance of the Highlands and small countryside communities? Will multinationals, already lobbying like mad to go backwards on environment legislation, recent cruise ship legislation to cleaner fuel, industrialised food production succeed? Trump is already handing out the billions and the UK Prime Minister wants deregulation too. Even in Scotland our government has given the salmon aquaculture industry permission to increase biomass of fish on their farms over the legal limit, and increase disease control with even more chemical emamectin. In 2019 data held by The Scottish Environmental Protection Agency shows that 261,481 tonnes of feed was offered to salmon in salmon farms. Studies show that about 15% of feed consumed by feedlot salmon is excreted as faeces. That is 39,222tonnes of salmon sewage dumped in Scottish sea lochs in 2019 (see www.facebook.com/issf.org.uk/ ). So we need to clean up our back yard too.

Complexity and interconnectedness go hand in hand. Each area, Health, Climate and Nature are linked to the others. Nothing is linear or sequential. We have to learn to live with it!

Sally Campbell

April 2020

With thanks to Greenpeace