Significant news and opinion pieces from the media.
The global pandemic has spawned new forms of activism – and they're flourishing
Before the Covid-19 pandemic, the world was experiencing unprecedented levels of mass mobilisation. The decade from 2010 to 2019 saw more mass movements demanding radical change around the world than in any period since World War II. Since the pandemic struck, however, street mobilisation – mass demonstrations, rallies, protests, and sit-ins – has largely ground to an abrupt halt in places as diverse as India, Lebanon, Chile, Hong Kong, Iraq, Algeria, and the United States.
The near cessation of street protests does not mean that people power has dissipated. We have been collecting data on the various methods that people have used to express solidarity or adapted to press for change in the midst of this crisis. In just several weeks' time, we've identified nearly 100 distinct methods of nonviolent action that include physical, virtual and hybrid actions – and we're still counting. Far from condemning social movements to obsolescence, the pandemic – and governments' responses to it – are spawning new tools, new strategies, and new motivation to push for change.
In terms of new tools, all across the world, people have turned to methods like car caravans, cacerolazos (collectively banging pots and pans inside the home), and walkouts from workplaces with health and safety challenges to voice personal concerns, make political claims, and express social solidarity. Activists have developed alternative institutions such as coordinated mask-sewing, community mutual aid pods, and crowdsourced emergency funds.
Abridged from The Guardian, 20 April 2020, www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/apr/20/the-global-pandemic-has-spawned-new-forms-of-activism-and-theyre-flourishing
Coronavirus pandemic 'will cause famine of biblical proportions'
The world is facing widespread famine "of biblical proportions" because of the coronavirus pandemic, the chief of the UN's food relief agency has warned, with a short time to act before hundreds of millions starve.
More than 30 countries in the developing world could experience widespread famine, and in 10 of those countries there are already more than 1 million people on the brink of starvation, said David Beasley, executive director of the World Food Programme.
Covid-19 is likely to be sweeping through the developing world but its spread is hard to gauge. What appears to be certain is that the fragile healthcare systems of scores of developing countries will be unable to cope, and the economic disaster following in the wake of the pandemic will lead to huge strain on resources.
"This is truly more than just a pandemic – it is creating a hunger pandemic," said Beasley. "This is a humanitarian and food catastrophe."
Beasley took his message to the UN security council, warning world leaders that they must act quickly in a fast-deteriorating situation. He urged them to bring forward about US$2bn of aid that has been pledged, so it can get to the frontline as quickly as possible.
"I was already saying that 2020 would be the worst year since the second world war, on the basis of what we forecast at the end of last year," he said. Added to that, earlier this year East Africa was hit by the worst locust swarms for decades, putting as many as 70 million people at risk.
According to a report produced by the UN and other organisations, at least 265 million people are being pushed to the brink of starvation by the Covid-19 crisis, double the number under threat before the pandemic.
Money alone will not be enough, Beasley added. It is difficult for relief workers to get through lockdowns around the world and set up air bridges when transport is paralysed. "We need money and access – not one or the other, both."
Abridged from The Guardian, 22 April 2020, www.theguardian.com/global-development/2020/apr/21/coronavirus-pandemic-will-cause-famine-of-biblical-proportions
World Food Programme report: www.wfp.org/publications/2020-global-report-food-crises
Global Network Against Food Crises report: www.fightfoodcrises.net/food-crises-and-covid-19/en/
IPS, 22 April 2020, 'Q&A: Continued Social Distancing and Hundreds of Millions More in Poverty - A New Normal for the World?', http://www.ipsnews.net/2020/04/qa-continued-social-distancing-hundreds-millions-poverty-new-normal-world/
Carbon emissions will drop, but experts fear 'revenge pollution'
While the recent drop in carbon emissions is real and measurable, few experts believe the economic shutdown caused by the coronavirus will have any lasting positive impact on curbing climate change.
In China the reduction in atmospheric pollution has been profound. Nationwide coal use this year is down 36 per cent over the same period in 2019, the World Economic Forum reported. According to the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air, in the month after the Lunar New Year on February 12, fine particle air pollution was down 25 per cent and nitrogen by 40 per cent compared with the same period a year earlier.
As the virus spreads similar drops are being measured around the world. All of this should be good news, but few experts are celebrating. This is because historically, despite all the rhetoric by governments around the world about the urgent need to reduce carbon emissions, the only time they have ever actually dropped has been during global crises.
A study published in the journal Nature found emissions in that country fell by 10 per cent between 2007 and 2009 due to a reduction in the use of goods and services as a result of the financial crisis, while another in Nature Geoscience shows the only other falls were caused by the two World Wars and the Great Depression.
Depending on where stimulus money lands, new high-emissions sources could be locked in for the long haul. This process is already apparent in China, which issued permits for more new coal fired power stations in the first two and half weeks of March than it did all of last year.
Li Shuo, a senior climate policy adviser for Greenpeace East Asia, calls the tendency of emissions to leap after crises "revenge pollution". Climate scientists and activists are alive to the threat and are already calling for governments to create "green" stimulus packages.
Abridged from The Age, 29 March 2020, www.theage.com.au/environment/climate-change/carbon-emissions-will-drop-but-experts-fear-revenge-pollution-20200327-p54eft.html
CarbonBrief, 9 April 2020, 'Analysis: Coronavirus set to cause largest ever annual fall in CO2 emissions', www.carbonbrief.org/analysis-coronavirus-set-to-cause-largest-ever-annual-fall-in-co2-emissions
The Guardian, 10 April 2020, 'Climate crisis: in coronavirus lockdown, nature bounces back – but for how long?', www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/09/climate-crisis-amid-coronavirus-lockdown-nature-bounces-back-but-for-how-long
The Guardian, 11 April 2020, ''It's positively alpine!': Disbelief in big cities as air pollution falls', www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/apr/11/positively-alpine-disbelief-air-pollution-falls-lockdown-coronavirus
Here's what the coronavirus pandemic can teach us about tackling climate change
The global response to the coronavirus crisis shows that governments can take immediate, radical emergency measures, which go beyond purely economic concerns, to protect the well-being of all. Specifically, there are practical lessons and opportunities we can take away from the coronavirus emergency as we seek to tackle climate change:
Act early: The coronavirus pandemic shows the crucial importance of early action to prevent catastrophic consequences.
Go slow, go local: Coronavirus has forced an immediate scale-down of how we travel and live. People are forging local connections, shopping locally, working from home and limiting consumption to what they need.
Researchers have identified that fears about personal well-being represent a major barrier to political support for the degrowth movement to date. However with social distancing expected to be in place for months, our scaled-down lives may become the "new normal". Many people may realise that consumption and personal well-being are not inextricably linked.
Spend on clean energy: The International Energy Agency (IEA) says clean energy should be "at the heart of stimulus plans to counter the coronavirus crisis". The IEA has called on governments to launch sustainable stimulus packages focused on clean energy technologies. It says hydrogen and carbon-capture also need major investment to bring them to scale, which could be helped by the current low interest rates.
Governments could also use coronavirus stimulus packages to reskill workers to service the new "green" economy, and address challenges in healthcare, sanitation, aged care, food security and education.
Abridged from The Conversation, 27 March 2020, https://theconversation.com/heres-what-the-coronavirus-pandemic-can-teach-us-about-tackling-climate-change-134399
Under cover of pandemic, fossil fuel interests unleash lobbying frenzy
A new report by UK-based think tank InfluenceMap summarises fossil fuel lobbying during the time of the pandemic, pointing to specific examples of how fossil fuel interests around the world are using the cover of the coronavirus crisis to advance their agenda.
"The oil and gas sector appears to be the most active globally in the above two lobbying areas, demanding both financial support and deregulation in response to the COVID-19 crisis," the report states.
Desmog Blog, 2 April 2020, 'Under cover of pandemic, fossil fuel interests unleash lobbying frenzy', https://www.desmogblog.com/2020/04/02/coronavirus-fossil-fuel-lobbying-trump-influencemap
InfluenceMap report: https://influencemap.org/report/The-Coronavirus-Crisis-and-Climate-Lobbying-23249d39450ff19b441090a6a50174eb
Australia's energy minister pushing fossil fuel projects
It is a federal government program for which there appears to exist no constitutional or legislative authority, which has no established guidelines for assessing projects and an opaque process for allocating millions of taxpayer dollars. It's something called the Underwriting New Generation Investment (UNGI) program and it's the baby of the federal Energy minister, Angus Taylor. And in recent weeks, as the attention of the nation's media and populace has been focused on the Covid-19 crisis, it moved a couple of steps forward.
One step was the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the Commonwealth and New South Wales governments, which encompassed a broad range of energy initiatives, not all of them bad in environmental terms. But buried in the various attached schedules to the agreement are measures designed to prop up coal-fired electricity generators and weaken environmental protections.
Schedule F is particularly interesting, promising Commonwealth support through UNGI for three power generation projects in the state – one of them the very old, very dirty Vales Point coal power station.
While Australia's attention has been consumed by the coronavirus pandemic, projects and policymaking has continued elsewhere, largely unscrutinised. Indeed, the crisis has provided cover and a convenient excuse for some contentious, alarming or outright dodgy decisions – particularly on the issues of environment, climate and energy.
For example, at the end of March, the NSW government gave approval for United States coalminer Peabody to extend operations under Woronora Reservoir, which supplies drinking water to parts of Sydney and areas south.
A few days before the Woronora decision in NSW, the Victorian government announced it will end a five-year moratorium restricting onshore gas exploration. Victoria was under heavy financial pressure from the federal government to do this. Angus Taylor made it a prerequisite for federal funding for other energy development in the state.
State governments in South Australia and Western Australia have given big financial breaks to minerals and petroleum companies in recent weeks – exempting them temporarily from having to meet various fees and expenditure requirements.
As Greenpeace notes in an extensive list of exemptions, benefits and special deals done for the resources sector under the cover of Covid-19, fossil fuel extraction has been deemed a "critical industry", even as workers in other sectors of the economy have been instructed to stay home to limit the spread of the disease.
Abridged from The Saturday Paper, 11 April 2020, 'Angus Taylor's energy projects push', www.thesaturdaypaper.com.au/news/politics/2020/04/11/angus-taylors-energy-projects-push/15865272009679
Beware what's happening under the cover of COVID
While we've been forced into inaction, our governments have taken the brakes off. While we've been meditating our way to our better selves they've been busy beating the bejesus out of the environment.
There's the proposal, currently on exhibition, to destroy seven hectares of parkland, including Yurulbin Park in Sydney, and other harbourside sites including Balls Head Reserve for "temporary" Western Harbour Tunnel construction sites. This dirty tunnel, bringing WestConnex traffic jams to the north shore and toll revenues to the buccaneers, is a project we can no longer afford.
There's the newly approved extension of Peabody Energy's longwall coalmine beneath Woronora Dam, in Sydney's water catchment. Coronavirus offers the perfect excuse to ignore the 10,000-plus petition opposing this mine extension and wantonly "fast-track" jobs.
Similar exemptions apply to fly-in-fly-out mining. These practices send oil, coal, gas and CSG workers into regional and remote communities with no requirements to self-isolate, endangering remote and Indigenous communities that are already vulnerable – simply to entrench our fossil fuel addiction. Wouldn't this actually be a moment to explore distributed and onsite renewable generation?
Then there's the recent advent of genetically modified milk cows in country Victoria. These cows are from sperm that US firm Recombinetics (using the CRISPR-like Talens technology) modified for hornlessness. It's marketed as "animal welfare". In fact, though, it's about time and money; letting farmers crowd cows unnaturally and achieve hornlessness more quickly than by breeding.
The US demands such products be safety-tested as GM. In Australia, the Office of Gene Technology Regulation also regards them as GM but has accepted them. This leaves Food Standards Australia and New Zealand as the last hurdle between this GM milk and your breakfast table. But it, too, proposes to "review" what it prefers to call NBT (new breeding techniques) mid 2020, which could easily put this milk, unlabelled, on supermarket shelves. It's politically clever, splitting the opposition by marketing GMOs as animal welfare. But morally indefensible.
And all this as we learn of a further massive reef-bleaching and a 1200 per cent increase in land clearing in NSW since 2016.
It's like they've learned nothing. As if we'll just bounce right back into the headlong race to extinction that got us here. So by all means stay home, stay safe. But do not look away. Let Scott Morrison pray for us but, equally, let us pray for him. Pray to infuse him with clarity, purpose and integrity.
Abridged from The Age, 4 April 2020, www.theage.com.au/national/beware-what-s-happening-under-the-cover-of-covid-20200402-p54gi0.html
Coronavirus is not some great leveller: it is exacerbating inequality right now
UK ‒ Coronavirus is not some grand leveller: it is an amplifier of existing inequalities, injustices and insecurities. We hear the constant invoking of the second world war: but despite the horror of Nazi bombs, the living standards and health of poorer Britons benefited from rationing and full employment. In the age of Covid-19, the rubble of economic collapse will fall on those who suffered the most from the last crash: the young, the precarious, the low-paid.
If you are wealthy, you have savings; you may own your property outright, or at least have relief in the form of a mortgage holiday. Renters on the other hand, who even in normal times part with a huge portion of their wage bills, now have the National Residential Landlords Association wagging its fingers in their faces, telling them that the pandemic is not a "green light" for them not to pay their rent. Many find themselves asking what exactly they're meant to pay their rent with.
As the Institute for Fiscal Studies notes, the better-off may actually increase their savings but poorer households spend much more of their limited income on necessities, leaving them vulnerable to sudden falls in their incomings. Indeed, millions who spend their lives treading water now face being sucked under by strong currents.
The wealthy are also more likely to be able to work from home. In the United States, a study of mobile data reveals that the wealthy are moving around less than the least well-off: they can afford to self-isolate and did so quicker than their poorer fellow citizens.
Then there's the issue of space. While many middle-class children play in expansive gardens, much of the urban poor find themselves locked away in overcrowded accommodation, risking a police reprimand if they loiter around parks.
Finally, nurses, care workers, bus drivers, supermarket workers are rightly designated the title of "key worker", but what compensation for years of being undervalued, underpaid and now at particular risk of exposure to a potentially lethal illness.
Abridged from The Guardian (UK), 10 April 2020, www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/apr/09/coronavirus-inequality-managers-zoom-cleaners-offices
Five ways coronavirus lockdowns increase inequality
The worst effects of social distancing will undoubtedly be felt by the young, the poor and the socially disadvantaged. Here are five key ways how.
- Access to money: While older people are clearly more susceptible to the symptoms of coronavirus, they typically have more money at their disposal. More of their incomes will be from pensions, which in the short term at least are less affected by the economic shock resulting from social distancing. Markets are clearly volatile, but have barely erased two years of gains from their recent all-time highs. But those without savings to tide them through the lockdown, including many younger people involved in the gig economy as well as the self-employed and small business owners, are struggling.
- Access to work: Leaving aside those involved in healthcare and other essential jobs, higher-paid desk-working professionals are most likely to have the means, the opportunity and the know-how to work effectively from home. Lower-paid or blue-collar workers, the self-employed, and small businesses in the hospitality industry – and many trades deemed as non-essential by the state – are having a very hard time indeed.
- Access to education: Many educational institutions around the world in putting all learning and assessment online, or suspending it altogether for the foreseeable future. This disadvantages those without access to a good internet connection, good IT equipment, a good home study environment, and the technical knowledge essential for online learning, or the means to obtain it.
- Effects of social distancing on health: There is a large and growing body of evidence showing substantial mental and physical health benefits from taking regular exercise and fresh air in the natural environment. Many people in big cities have no outside space of their own to venture out into, let alone access to the great outdoors, yet more crowded and densely packed housing increases the need to access open space, both for mental and physical health. Now parks are being shut, despite being a lifeline to many. The toll of social distancing on the less advantaged will outlast the time spent in lockdown.
- Societal division: A disturbing phenomenon of this pandemic is the emerging trend which seems to imply that individual pleasure is not allowed during a national state of emergency. It seems that all of the risks involved with people spending more time outside could easily be addressed by implementing simple behaviour changes. Unless a new approach is adopted, future research will show that current social distancing guidelines caused long-term ill health, inequality, and social division that exceeded the short-term benefits.
Abridged from The Conversation, 8 April 2020, https://theconversation.com/five-ways-coronavirus-lockdowns-increase-inequality-135767
U.N. releases report on socio-economic effects of coronavirus
As the number of coronavirus cases continues to grow, concerns are simultaneously growing about the current and long-term effects this will have on certain demographics ‒ specifically, women, the youth, migrant workers, and many employees around the world. The United Nations has launched a report 'Shared Responsibility, Global Solidarity: Responding to the socio-economic impacts of COVID-19' that detailed how these communities are affected disproportionately by the current pandemic and quarantine.
At the centre of it remains one demographic that likely bear the strongest brunt of it: women. "The fact that women make up 70 percent of the global health workforce puts them at greater risk of infection," read part of the report. "The current crisis threatens to push back the limited gains made on gender equality and exacerbate the feminisation of poverty, vulnerability to violence, and women's equal participation in the labour force."
But just because women make up almost three-quarters of global healthcare professionals, does not mean they're given the proper respect. According to a March 2019 report by the World Health Organisation, despite having such a crucial role in the public health industry, women continue to face various kinds of abuse or negligence in society, including but not limited to being attributed to a "lower status" or engaging in paid and often, unpaid roles, and being subject to gender bias and harassment.
Meanwhile, given such a large percentage of the workers are women, the requirement of child-care can hinder a woman's ability to work during the pandemic. According to the Centre for American Progress, currently millions of healthcare workers have a child under the age of 14, who might be struggling to manage between going to work and taking care of their children.
Another demographic that is deeply affected as a result of the pandemic are migrant workers. "Migrants account for almost 30 percent of workers in some of the most affected sectors in OECD countries," read the report. "Massive job losses among migrant workers will have knock on effects on economies heavily dependent on remittances, such as El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nepal, Tonga, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan."
Beyond migrant workers, the International Labour Organisation estimates that the current crisis in the labour market could see millions of job losses. "The current crisis exacerbates the feminisation of poverty, vulnerability to violence, and women's equal participation in the labour force," the report noted, highlighting that even amid joblessness, women will be affected disproportionately.
Abridged from IPS, 3 April 2020, www.ipsnews.net/2020/04/u-n-releases-report-socio-economic-effects-coronavirus/
United Nations, March 2020, 'Shared Responsibility, Global Solidarity: Responding to the socio-economic impacts of COVID-19', https://unsdg.un.org/sites/default/files/2020-03/SG-Report-Socio-Economic-Impact-of-Covid19.pdf
Coronavirus giving some European governments an excuse to tighten grip on power
In Hungary, which has been steadily transformed into what its Prime Minister Viktor Orban has proudly declared an "illiberal state", the Government has swept away checks on its power. While the Hungarian constitution provides for special measures during a declared state of emergency, Mr Orban has instead introduced new legislation which confers upon his administration the ability to rule by fiat. The legislation creates two new crimes. Breaching quarantine is now punishable by up to eight years in prison. And a three-year term awaits those who transgress a new sedition-like restriction on public speech.
In Poland, Bulgaria and Kosovo, the public health crisis has also been exploited as a political opportunity.
In Warsaw, the ruling Law and Justice Party is planning to press ahead with a presidential election in early May. While President Andrzej Duda holds court on television, thanks to Poland's pliant state broadcaster, the Opposition is banned on health grounds from holding rallies.
In Bulgaria, the Parliament granted new powers to the Government to use mobile phone data to track the populace ‒ ostensibly to police the quarantine of those infected or exposed to COVID-19. It has also set up checkpoints around Roma communities ‒ an ethnic minority often pilloried in Bulgarian society.
Kosovo's Government recently collapsed and its prime minister was deposed after President Hashim Thaci, a former militiaman once accused of war crimes, attempted to shift all executive power to an emergency security council which he heads.
Abridged from the ABC, 2 April 2020, www.abc.net.au/news/2020-04-02/eastern-european-regimes-exploit-coronavirus/12109720
USA: EPA issues unprecedented 'license to pollute' during pandemic
The US Environmental Protection Agency has given industrial facilities like power plants, which are required to report their discharge of air or water pollution, permission to monitor themselves at least for the duration of the COVID-19 crisis.1 The EPA also will not penalise industries for failing report violations while the policy is in place.
The Trump administration's roll-back of clean car standards will increase gasoline bills, cut jobs, and stifle innovation.2 The illegal rollback will lead to a massive amount of carbon pollution; cost drivers more than US$176 billion at the pump, and harm the U.S. economy. Just as important, automakers already have shown they can meet the standards. The roll-back faces legal challenges.
The Guardian reported on 10 April 2020: "Oil company executives have lobbied Donald Trump for a bailout. Under the cover of the crisis, the White House has rolled back fuel-economy standards for the car industry, the Environmental Protection Agency has stopped enforcing environmental laws, three states have criminalised fossil fuel protesters and construction has resumed on the KXL oil pipeline. The US government's massive economic stimulus bill also included a US$50 billion bailout for aviation companies."3
In another effort to undermine the ongoing climate crisis and push an anti-environmental agenda, the Trump administration has released its signature Clean Water Act rollback, the Dirty Water Rule.4 Trump's decision to roll back these protections exacerbates the vulnerability of people's health amid a public health crisis.
Angel Peña, President of the Nuestra Tierra Conservation Project, said: "The Dirty Water Rule is a radical misinterpretation of the Clean Water Act that will wipe out protections for streams and rivers used by rural, urban, and tribal communities for fishing and recreation. Clean water is essential for healthy fish, wildlife, native habitat, and quality outdoor recreation opportunities."
Mark Magaña, Founding President and CEO of GreenLatinos, said: "Even in times of crisis, when our economy is in shambles and our public health is at risk, Trump continues to push our communities down and feed the pockets of polluters dumping toxic chemicals into our water sources. The Trump administration is taking a huge step backwards on our important water protections, by failing to enforce and weakening clean water rules for corporate polluters."
- GreenLatinos media release, 22 April 2020, 'As America Faces a Public Health Crisis, Trump's Release of the Dirty Water Rule Endangers Lives'
Published in Chain Reaction #138, May 2020. National magazine of Friends of the Earth Australia. www.foe.org.au/chain_reaction