With Covid comes the opportunity to shift the economy away from fossil fuel | Greg Jericho

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Whenever confronted with a tragedy in your life, one of the hardest aspects to deal with is that life goes on – work continues, other events occur, bills need to be paid, the world keeps on turning. It can actually be a struggle to realise that even though you are feeling dreadful, other problems and tasks remain to be addressed.

So it is with the Covid-19 pandemic.

The world’s economy has been struck by an utterly tragic event that has wrecked lives and businesses. Not surprisingly, it has focused all our attention.

It would be nice if, with all the economic destruction, the loss of lives and massive disruption to people’s relationships, the rest of the world’s problems stopped and allowed us to just focus on this one issue.

But, as in our own personal life, other issues and problems remain, and first among them is climate change.

This week came news of the first major fire of the fire season. Yes, the fire season has already started, and once again we start looking at the “fires near me” app.

We also had the record highest temperature ever recorded when Death Valley in the US hit 54.4C.

Then came a report on the increasing inability of the Great Barrier Reef to recover from bleaching events.

And to top it all off, Nasa’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies estimates that July this year was the second warmest July recorded. To be honest, that is not much of a shock – every month this year has either been the warmest or second warmest on record.

As a result the average global air and surface temperature of the first seven months of this year is just below the record warmest year of 2016.

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The problem is in that year we were experiencing the strongest El Nino this century. By contrast, the Bureau of Meteorology estimates there is around a 70% chance of La Nina forming in 2020 – a state of affairs that should see lower temperatures, not ones previously associated with abnormal weather events.

Should scientists develop a vaccine for Covid-19 and should it be taken up well enough around the world to ensure the economy can open up again and return to some sort of normality, the climate crisis will still be there.

And even if a vaccine is not developed, the climate crisis will still be there.

Yet this crisis brings with it opportunity. Massive government investment is required to fill the chasm left by the private sector, and using it to shift our economy to renewables fits pretty much every goal of providing jobs, investment, research and also attacking climate change.

And yet the Morrison government remains focused on a gas-led recovery, which is no recovery at all. It is a kick-the-can-down-the-road approach.

It is largely in keeping with this government, which is very good at making announcements – be it about aged care, border force or vaccines – but less able to deliver.

The “Scotty from marketing” jibe would be less potent if the prime minister did not provide so many examples that fit.

It aligns with a government whose ministers’ offices will be quickly on the phone if you suggest they don’t believe in climate change, but who will resist any policy that actually does something about our emissions.

Guardian Australia’s ongoing series on the Green Recovery and news of plans for constructing another large wind, solar and storage project in South Australia highlight just how great are the possibilities for shifting from a fossil fuel-based economy.

While the states will do what they can despite the national government’s intransigence, so obvious is the need for large investment and so well does it fit within the scope of economic recovery, that the Morrison government’s failure to take the lead is as damning as its lack of planning for how to deal with the coronavirus in the aged care system.

When tragedy strikes, the world doesn’t stop turning, and our current recession has not stopped the world from warming. But it has given governments around the world an opportunity – indeed the perfect excuse – to shift their economies away from fossil fuel.

All we need is a government willing to grasp the opportunity.

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