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Avoiding a Climate Lockdown

Summary:
The world is approaching a tipping point on climate change, when protecting the future of civilization will require dramatic interventions. Avoiding this scenario will require a green economic transformation – and thus a radical overhaul of corporate governance, finance, policy, and energy systems. LONDON – As COVID-19 spread earlier this year, governments introduced lockdowns in order to prevent a public-health emergency from spinning out of control. In the near future, the world may need to resort to lockdowns again – this time to tackle a climate emergency. The Economic Case for Biden Drew Angerer/Getty Images

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The world is approaching a tipping point on climate change, when protecting the future of civilization will require dramatic interventions. Avoiding this scenario will require a green economic transformation – and thus a radical overhaul of corporate governance, finance, policy, and energy systems.

LONDON – As COVID-19 spread earlier this year, governments introduced lockdowns in order to prevent a public-health emergency from spinning out of control. In the near future, the world may need to resort to lockdowns again – this time to tackle a climate emergency.

Shifting Arctic ice, raging wildfires in western US states and elsewhere, and methane leaks in the North Sea are all warning signs that we are approaching a tipping point on climate change, when protecting the future of civilization will require dramatic interventions.

Under a “climate lockdown,” governments would limit private-vehicle use, ban consumption of red meat, and impose extreme energy-saving measures, while fossil-fuel companies would have to stop drilling. To avoid such a scenario, we must overhaul our economic structures and do capitalism differently.

Many think of the climate crisis as distinct from the health and economic crises caused by the pandemic. But the three crises – and their solutions – are interconnected.

COVID-19 is itself a consequence of environmental degradation: one recent study dubbed it “the disease of the Anthropocene.” Moreover, climate change will exacerbate the social and economic problems highlighted by the pandemic. These include governments’ diminishing capacity to address public-health crises, the private sector’s limited ability to withstand sustained economic disruption, and pervasive social inequality.

These shortcomings reflect the distorted values underlying our priorities. For example, we demand the most from “essential workers” (including nurses, supermarket workers, and delivery drivers) while paying them the least. Without fundamental change, climate change will worsen such problems.

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