Sustainability In A Pandemic: Is It Necessary?

When self-isolation measures started to be encouraged in the UK to prevent the spread of COVID-19, I didn’t think much of it. My job evolved into working from home in 2017, so I’m well versed in getting up, getting ready for work, and then settling down behind my desk, all in the same place. You may even say I already partake in some social distancing (!)

What I didn’t expect was to drastically affect me personally and professionally in just a few days. Meetings were converted to video calls which subsequently couldn’t take place due to the sudden overload on video call systems. Events were postponed, indefinitely. And the hardest part – sustainability appears to have become inconsequential when we’re trying to prevent the spread of a life-threatening virus.

So, instead of my previously lined-up posts this week, today I’m asking – is it possible to be sustainable during a pandemic? Is it realistic? Is it necessary?

Don’t use coronavirus to promote environmentalism

Before going into the social and economic effects of coronavirus, and how these are a catalyst or a counter for the climate crisis, I think it’s diligent to say: please read up on the signs and symptoms of coronavirus and take necessary precautions to protect yourself and others.

It’s also incredibly important to note that coronavirus is not a reason to celebrate any positive effects on the environment or the climate. A number of outlets have learned the hard way after posting about the reduction in transport emissions, or linking it to overpopulation, which have all been flooded with lots of comments calling out their ill-taste, and often then retracted.

As Mikaela Loach so wonderfully put it: “Overpopulation is not the cause of the climate crisis. Capitalism is. Wealth inequality is.”

Rapid political and social change is coming

In a thought-provoking video, political activist Kevin Ovenden explains how our current capitalist system will need to evolve in the face of coronavirus, social isolation, and the overwhelming strain on our medical services.

This global pandemic has already exposed the serious issues of an economic system that prioritises profit over people and planet – and how that can quickly change for the better too. Arms and military manufacturers are switching to medical equipment, for example. Yet this shift still prioritises certain demographics over others, with big industry still a priority.

What we are most likely to see is independent businesses with brick-and-mortar stores shutting, potentially forever. Community-led organisations unable to digitise will crumble. And on an individual level, many people will find themselves in financial crisis, if not a housing crisis: in the US, 78% of the population lives paycheck to paycheck. In the UK, an estimated 37% of people are one month away from losing their homes at all times.

We should not have to rely on the kindness of landlords to support the majority of our population. Nor should we have to rely on the kindness of bosses to provide sick pay. Consider those on zero-hour contracts – in these cases, people can find themselves stuck between showing up to work while ill in order to live, or invited to stay home, without any statutory sick pay (SSP). Even if the Government is happy to reimburse this cost, why would a business owner tie up their cash flow if it’s not necessary?

Social justice = sustainability

This new pandemic reveals why social justice and wealth equality is the foundation for environmentalism. Through this new lens, many of us have been given a glimpse into the mindset of marginalised, forgotten members of the world’s society who cannot even join the conversation around the climate crisis: How can you act sustainably when you don’t know where your next meal will come from? How can you care for the planet if household essentials are hard to come by? How can you shout about your moral values if you’re unable to take part in society?

The most sustainable step we can take right now is to support those who need it. We require the devolvement of power and capital on a community level. This is an opportunity to express great empathy for humankind, without borders or social divides. Izzy of The Quirky Environmentalist’s guide to helping others during the coronavirus outbreak covers this in clear, easy steps, and check out COVID-19 Mutual Aid to find out how you can best support the most vulnerable in your area.

For local businesses, buy vouchers, and even write online reviews on apps like Chorus, with the promise of buying from these people in the near future rather than the blank-faced global conglomerates who continue to hoard their wealth, avoid their taxes, and tie people into unjust, unfair contracts.

It’s with this new, shared understanding that we need to show solidarity. Donate to charities, help your neighbours, and stay home as much as possible to protect those who are more susceptible to the effects of COVID-19. This is an opportunity to create a new normal.


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