Can We Build Back Greener?

The problem

With the coronavirus pandemic past its peak in many countries, governments are looking to enliven their economies with stimulus packages, offering a unique opportunity to ‘Build back greener’. The phrase that has been bandied around by politicians and the media alike but many countries’ responses have been lacking in environmental considerations. 

So far the US presents the largest scale risk, with the Trump administration earmarking $479 billion US dollars (USD) for support to sectors proven to be harmful to the environment. Numerous other countries are complicit. In fact, 13 of 17 major economic powers, including China, Brazil, Australia, South Korea, Japan, Germany and Spain, were found to be complicit in planning stimulus packages or implementing measures that will negatively affect the environment. A recent article in the Guardian makes clear how dire the UK’s response has been.

Where governments could be basing their thinking on key tenets of green development including corporate bailouts with green strings attached, subsidising for green products and pursuing initiatives that reinforce environmental regulation, many are gravitating towards quick-fix solutions that are short-sighted and unsustainable.

Crescent Dunes Solar Thermal Facility in July 23, 2017. The facility, built with US sourced steel, glass and technology, provides more than 500,000 megawatt hours of electricity per year, using molten salt technology to provide electricity day or night. Courtesy: Dennis Schroeder/NREL

Additionally, major international environmental summits have been postponed, including the UN Convention on Biodiversity, at which the next 10 years’ biodiversity targets were due to be set, threatening a loss of vital time and momentum in our response to climate breakdown. 

The solution

All is not lost. As American writer, historian, and activist wrote in The Guardian, crises can provide a new lens through which we can see society, clarifying “what’s strong, what’s weak, what’s corrupt, what matters and what doesn’t”. And the largely swift global response to the pandemic has brought about some promising developments. President Macron of France has set stringent new carbon targets for Air France in return for desperately needed bailouts. Canada has already disregarded pleas from the oil and gas industry to lower environmental standards, insisting that large corporations seeking state help must publish climate disclosure reports annually.

Secondly, it’s now clear that money can be found to address crises, by governments as well as individuals. Forbes have been running a list of contributions to the coronavirus crisis, with many millionaires and billionaires donating sizable funds. Twitter’s CEO Jack Doresy has pledged up to $1 billion USD to coronavirus relief and other causes.

Finally, the fact that at its core this crisis is a scientific one has meant that experts, which have in the past decade been increasingly denigrated and disregarded, are being listened to once more. Those countries which have implemented measures informed by reputable scientists have been rewarded with better outcomes. This should signify to both society and politicians that it’s wise to listen to scientific rationale over populist conjecture. The challenge now will be to channel this thinking into environmental matters.

Courtesy: Noah Buscher

What can you do?

It can be overwhelming to begin thinking about what action you, as a concerned world citizen, can take to help build back greener; it’s easy to think that these problems are bigger than individual action. But this is not the case. Individual action can stimulate systemic change. 

Here are some steps you can take to help build a greener post-COVID world:

Educate yourself

There are some amazing resources and organizations out there. To start with, there are some informative articles available online, like this one, this one or this one. Ecowatch also provides up-to-date environmental news.

The We Mean Business Coalition is a global nonprofit coalition working with the world’s most influential businesses to take action on climate change. Business owners can get in contact to find out about how they can take action. You can learn about their current and past work here.

The Climate Coalition does a fantastic job in the UK of uniting public voices to lobby politicians. Find out more about their work here.


Started in 2018, Extinction Rebellion made headlines globally, using “non-violent civil disobedience in an attempt to halt mass extinction”. Though many of their actions and events are currently paused due to COVID, there are numerous ways you can get involved. Find out how to join here

Friends of the Earth, The World Wildlife Fund and Greenpeace continue to do amazing work.

An Extinction Rebellion protest in London. Courtesy: Anthony Jarman/Extinction Rebellion

Spend wisely

Thanks to the closure of many brick-and-mortar stores, paired with a wariness of physical shopping at the moment, e-commerce has seen an uptick in popularity. 35% of all purchases in the UK during lockdown were made via Amazon. Sales of the company are projected to reach 468.78 billion USD in 2021. Aside from Amazon’s questionable tax history – which means that they provide cheaper shopping at the expense of public services – online shopping generates 2.5 times more packaging than goods bought in a store. Online shopping can also increase the carbon footprint of items owing to transportation. Find out about alternative options around you – small independently run stories need your business now more than ever. Every tiny amount you spend contributes to shaping the world around you.

Alongside spending your money with them, you can support small businesses by:

  1. Writing a positive review online
  2. Following them on social media and engaging with their posts
  3. Signing up to their newsletter

If you need to make purchases online, where possible find greener alternatives. Depending on where in the world you live the options vary, but a quick online search can point you in the right direction. In fact, you can even find green alternatives for your search engine: Ecosia is a search engine that plants trees with your searches.

Spread the word

Repost this article on your social media, bring it up at dinner, show it to a friend. Find something interesting/shocking in your own research? Talk about it! 

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