Killing two birds with one stone: The doable and fair way out of the crises by Monika Skadborg
Right before my country went into lockdown, we had an event in the climate ministry. The Youth Climate Council delivered our latest policy recommendations to the minister and “grilled” him with questions about carbon taxation and sustainable food production. We had more than 80 young people present to ask critical questions plus many more over live-stream, in an effort to hold the minister accountable. When we met in the morning, people were shaking hands and sharing food. As the day progressed, more restrictions were implemented. We had to move to a larger room, move chairs two meters apart, put snacks in individual cups and ask people not to take the elevator together. When we left in the evening, we were only bumping elbows. We knew that we would probably not be able to host an event like this for a while. I was scared. Not just because I might be in a vulnerable group (chronic illness), but also because I worried how the world would handle two major crises when we were already failing to properly handle one.
“Can you hear me well?” and “Are you doing okay in lockdown?” became daily phrases. Writing our policy inputs without being in the same room. Online lobby meetings. Public debates replaced with webinars. Demonstrations replaced with twitter-storms of people holding signs. Placing our shoes in front of Parliament to demonstrate instead of us. Naturally, the media became preoccupied with the health crisis and less willing to cover the climate crisis. Sure, our house is on fire. But now the house also has termites. The termites are new and scary and a concrete understandable problem. We can get back to talking about the difficult multi-faceted problem of the slowly escalating fire later. Sure, the WHO estimates that 250.000 people will die from climate change every year from the year 2040, but that is “the next generation” and we don’t seem to matter so much as the unemployment rate today.
The fire has not been put out. Taking most of the planes out of the air only puts a small temporary dent into our rapidly growing mountain of emissions. Even though we have seen nature reacting positively to a small break from the ongoing man-made destruction, simply stopping human activities is not a sustainable solution. The truly sustainable solution is finding ways for humans to live happy, healthy, connected lives without undermining the living conditions of their children. It means a world where I have a green job, and where I can buy my food happily knowing that producing it did not come at the cost of setting fire to someone else’s forest.
Worse than the drop in media attention for our generation’s largest and most deadly problem, is the money. The idea of a covid-induced financial crisis had barely been mentioned before some parts of the political spectrum started using it as an excuse to lower climate ambitions. “We cannot afford climate action, look how expensive building back after the virus will be”, some said. As the young generation who will pay for solving both crises, we were outraged. It is well-documented that the bill for solving the climate crisis will just grow the more we wait. You think climate action is expensive? It isn’t if you compare to the cost of inaction.
Knowing that we will pay the bill for both crises, young people demand decision makers to kill two birds with one stone: Of course the economy will need a boost after the lockdown, but it must be a green boost. Of course some businesses will need bailouts but they must come with green strings attached. Of course we need jobs, but it must be green jobs. Luckily, so many of the necessary investments in the green transition also create jobs, so let’s start with those. Let’s focus on synergies between restarting the economy, and saving at least some of the lives at stake in the climate crisis.
We ask decision-makers to kill two birds with one stone because we only have one stone.
We can only spend the money once and history does not give second chances. We either start treating nature’s boundaries with respect immediately, or we pay the price of irreversible deadly consequences. There is no second shot at this. No time to save dirty industries first and pay for transition later. Every cent spent on subsidizing fossil fuels or helping businesses get “back to normal” is a cent wasted. A cent we could have spent on building something better than “normal”. Making a green restart after this health crisis is not easy, but it is doable if we make the right priorities. It is the only choice that would be fair to our children.
About the Author
Monika Skadborg is the President of the Youth Climate Council (Ungeklimarådet) in Denmark. They are an independent Youth-led advisory board gathering input from Danish young people and presenting policy recommendations for the climate minister as well as advocating towards businesses and organisations for increased climate action. They have been working with, among other things finance flows for sustainable development, socially just polluters pay models, and how to find synergies between stimulating the economy and achieving climate neutrality. She took initiative to convince the climate minister to get a Youth Climate Council because young people deserve a seat at the table where decisions are made that impact their future. Monika has previously been a Youth Delegate to the UN representing Danish young people at COP24-25 and other sustainability related events. Now she is a member of the Bottom Lining Team supporting Youngo, the Youth Constituency to UNFCCC. Monika has been active in different youth and student organisations for more than a decade and now she works for the European Students’ Union representing 20 million students. Here she works with among other things improving the sustainability aspects of higher education. Her educational background is Environmental Engineering at the Technical University of Denmark.