Extinction Rebellion demonstration. Photograph: Daniel Leal Olivas / Getty Images

Covid-19 has transformed our world, drastically altering even the most minute household tasks and generating seismic shifts in geopolitical diplomacy.

As the global fight continues, green activists in Hackney told the Citizen that although their work has been reshaped, with online campaigning and community volunteering taking priority, the looming climate crisis still demands the world’s attention.

Much has been made of the bungled responses of many governments to the pandemic and green activists believe significant lessons must be drawn to effectively combat the climate crisis.

They say governments must learn the importance of heeding expert scientific advice early, prioritise spending on generating green industries and work in partnership with grassroots community groups.

Lockdown measures have turned age-old human interaction systems on their head.

Many green activists in Hackney prefer dynamic, face-to-face community engagement as a vehicle to promote awareness of climate change.

The closure of schools, libraries and community centres, whilst necessary to prevent the spread of Covid-19, has limited their ability to run local projects and led to a surge in online campaigning.

Sustainable Hackney advocates for the protection of the local environment and supports grassroots green activists.

Philip Pearson, its chair, told the Citizen: “As with many local groups, Sustainable Hackney relies on gathering together, and reaching out to people, so our local campaign efforts have been frustrated by the pandemic.

“The climate crisis has become understandably overshadowed by Covid.”

Felicity Premru is the secretary of the Campaign Against Climate Change Trade Union Group (CACCTU), which works with unions on progressing climate issues and advocating for public sector jobs to actively cut carbon emissions.

She said: “All the normal channels of climate activism, like everything else, are closed. The lockdown clamps down on all but some socially distanced protests – ironic, as dangerous non-essential and non-immediate construction continues.

“The mobilisation around the international climate talks, coalition work around [UN Climate Change Conference] COP26 in Glasgow has gone online but will not stop.”

For the time being, many groups are concentrating their efforts on assisting more vulnerable members of the community through volunteering.

Joe, a member of Extinction Rebellion, says the local movement has “successfully moved our meetings online, and many rebels in Hackney are using this time to support their local community, through mutual aid groups and delivering support to those who need it”.

Activists are also using the extra time to evaluate and reflect on the response of governments to the crisis, and the implications for the climate emergency.

Since the onset of the pandemic, we have witnessed the world’s governments and international organisations assembling resources and technologies on a scale not previously seen since the commencement of the Second World War.

After years of austerity and inaction towards climate change, the significance of this expenditure has not been lost on many in the green movement.

Joe added: “For decades, our government has told us that the systemic changes to our economic system needed to avert climate breakdown simply weren’t possible.

“On the contrary, this crisis has shown us that when an issue […] is a life- threatening emergency of global significance, the government is quite capable of responding quickly and rapidly reallocating vast resources.”

In parallel to the physical changes we have been required to make to our day-to-day lives, there have been rapid cultural and social shifts – so extreme that in normal times they would have been decades in the making.

Scientists are now making a comeback and enjoying newfound political prominence having been recognised as a central pillar in the fight against the virus.

This follows years of populist politics throughout the West, which saw the emotive rhetoric of demagogues like Trump, monopolising global debates on how to solve the world’s problems and pushing expert opinions to the periphery.

This disdain for scientific expertise can still be seen in some quarters of the US, with protests led by die-hard Libertarian Americans, who resent the closure of businesses, defying social distancing guidance to demand an end to the lockdown.

In the UK, the government is coming under increasing scrutiny about whether it responded swiftly enough to scientific advice in the early stages of the pandemic.

Green activists in Hackney are clear that the world’s leaders must learn from past mistakes and engage with scientific experts to tackle the climate crisis.

Pearson told the Citizen: “The crisis has highlighted […] the vital role of expert advice in tackling societal challenges.”

This view was echoed by Joe, who added: “This pandemic has shown us that we must act on the advice of the scientific expert community, or pay a high price.”

The origins of Covid-19 have been the subject of contentious debate around the world. Conspiracy theories abound, even placing a strain on diplomatic relations between China and the US.

Whilst the hunt to find a definitive answer continues, the mainstream scientific community is unified in its assessment that human behaviour increases the likelihood of new pandemics emerging.

A study published by The Royal Society earlier this month illustrated that the erosion of the natural environment amplifies the risks of further pandemics arising.

It found that zoonotic diseases, which originate in animals but are transmittable to humans, represent the greatest proportion of emerging infectious diseases, therefore making them one of the most significant threats to global public health.

The study concluded that humanity’s destruction of animal habitats, urbanisation, and wildlife hunting, increase the proximity between animals and humans and facilitates the crossover of potentially infectious diseases from one species to another.

Scientists at Greenpeace have suggested global warming caused by humans is also a factor by provoking severe bouts of floods, forest fires and storms, altering ecosystems and creating conditions for new diseases to emerge.

It is often the world’s poorest people and indigenous communities who find themselves on the front line of these transmissions, as a result of being displaced from their ancestral lands.

Mass farming and industrialisation forces them to encroach further into wildlife territories.

The wealth asymmetries and exploitation between humans exacerbates the destruction of the environment, increasing chances of infectious diseases emerging.

CACCTU’s Felicity Premu said the tragedy of the pandemic is that has hit “the poorest and communities of colour hardest”, and has “thrown so many injustices into sharp relief”.

On 20 April, for the first time, oil prices turned negative in the US, due to lockdowns and a fall in demand, resulting in the costs of storing surplus oil becoming higher than the price of oil itself.

Although this state of affairs is unlikely to continue forever, it is nevertheless symptomatic of the unprecedented upheaval and economic uncertainty which has left the world’s politicians and economists trying to make sense of how to move forward.

For green activists, given the financial climate, the salience of a green industrial revolution has never been more apparent.

In response to the financial crisis of 2008, experts from different sectors formulated a Green New Deal designed to be the modern equivalent of the New Deal conceived by President Roosevelt in response to the Great Depression.

The Green New Deal aspired to oversee an evolution to a world where sustainable, renewable industry could prevail and where unregulated, free market capitalism was curtailed in order to create social equality.

Although the plan was not implemented, the premise has gained worldwide traction through grassroots activism, and many argue it is one of the only workable solutions to solving the world’s multitude of problems.

In light of the instability and changes, activists in Hackney have been contemplating how the pandemic might alter their work in future.

Alastair Binnie- Lubbock, speaking on behalf of Hackney Green Party, told the Citizen: “The deaths, displacement and food insecurity from climate breakdown and the rise of far-right governments threaten to dwarf the impact of Covid-19 and so we are organising now to ensure we change course.”

He added: “This crisis has shone a spotlight on the fact that our political and economic structures and our leaders are not fit for purpose in dealing with the real threats to our human security on this planet, and that we need to come together as communities to create dramatic change from the ground up.”

Sustainable Hackney’s Philip Pearson reiterated the need for an ongoing dialogue between green activists, local government and policymakers during the pandemic.

He said the group “feels it is important to recognise that at some point lockdown will end, and that when this does occur, there should be no return to ‘business as usual’.”

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