From deep-rooted racism to the Covid-19 pandemic, from extreme inequality to ecological collapse, our world is facing dire and deeply interconnected emergencies. But as much as the present moment painfully underscores the weaknesses of our economic system, it also gives us the rare opportunity to reimagine it. As we seek to rebuild our world, we can and must end the carbon economy.
Even as climate breakdown looms around the corner, the pressure to return to the old carbon-based economy is real – and all the more dangerous, given the fundamental instability of an economy rooted in injustice. Sources of large-scale human suffering, such as crop failures, water shortages, rising tides, wildfires, severe weather, forced migration and pandemics, go hand-in-hand with a warming world. For example, exposure to airborne pollution heightens the risk of complications from diseases like Covid-19, and deforestation and rising temperatures make the emergence of future infectious diseases more likely. When these consequences manifest, it is no accident that they are disproportionately felt by communities of color, low-income communities, the most vulnerable nations and peoples, and other historically marginalized groups.
It is Black people in America, for instance, who bear some of the highest rates of exposure to polluted air. The carbon economy amplifies and begets racial, social and economic inequities, creating a system that is fundamentally incompatible with a stable future. If we fail to act now, the present moment may merely be a preview of what is to come, as we are forced into ever-more-painful situations and tradeoffs. It is naive, moreover, to imagine that we can simply nudge the fossil fuel industry – an industry that has lied about climate change for decades, actively opposed serious climate solutions and continues to plan for a fossil fuel-dependent future – into good behavior.