In the Company of Climate Change

By Aswini Sivaraman, Manager, Social Media & Analytics

When you think of the environment,  do you think about social equity?

When the world shut down for COVID-19, climate activists wondered how to continue holding government and corporations accountable for environmental projects, because leaders actually thought that the lockdown would limit protests and it was, therefore, a great time to approve energy projects. Meanwhile, the momentary lowering of carbon emissions or skies clearing enough to see mountains in the distance seemed cause for celebration (incidentally, here’s how we can sustain the good in a crisis). 

But as we navigate from the immediate short-term consequences of the pandemic (no travel, loss of jobs, reduced consumption) to the long-term ones (economic recovery, healthcare impacts), how we talk about recovering from the pandemic will be influenced by what the world is experiencing at that moment. So despite clearer skies, world health leaders themselves are urging authorities to ensure a green recovery from the pandemic. In doing so, we should remember that the effects of COVID-19 on our environment have only magnified the complexity of a problem that already demanded large-scale global, systemic, and structural changes. And perhaps the most important thing to remember is: climate justice cannot happen independently of social justice.

Climate Change Facts and Roadmap

Let’s talk about why climate justice includes social justice. Here is a quick look at some of the most pressing climate realities (outside of COVID-19):

  • WHO suggests a minimum of 250,000 climate-change-related deaths a year starting 2030
  • Studies claim just 100 companies in the world are responsible for 71% of the world’s emissions
  • Climate change is already affecting the most vulnerable segments of the population first (and will continue to do so aggressively)

There are obviously many more concerns that drive the environmental movement, but the above outlines some of the main principles in terms of scale and solutions. The urgency, time-frame, and roadmap of our climate realities suggest that climate solutions cannot happen without a) immediate mass mobilization, b) companies plunging into action, and c) connecting environmental dots with socio-cultural dots. With a pandemic thrown into the mix, how does this road to recovery now look?

No Environmental Justice without Social Justice

A few years ago, climate organizations didn’t necessarily tackle social issues while campaigning for the environment. Game-changing reports from leading authorities then showed that vulnerable populations would be affected most by climate change. Social villains like racism and discrimination were shown to be intricately woven into a vicious circle with environmental effects. 

The racism and discrimination that have sparked recent protests across the world following the death of George Floyd further speak to this reality. In North America, where over 100,000 people have lost their lives due to COVID-19, black Americans have disproportionately borne the brunt of the pandemic. This section of our population will tend to live in areas more exposed to air pollution and less accessibility to clean water. They will also be more likely to work in the essential jobs sectors. 

This is true for other vulnerable communities, too. Natural disasters and crises will hit marginalized communities first. Our fervour to end plastic usage will affect people living with disabilities. Low-income neighbourhoods have much less access to green spaces than higher-income ones.

The road to environmental recovery from COVID-19 absolutely NEEDS to consider social recovery and be inclusive… 

Companies and COVID-19

Consumers today expect companies to not just participate in social movements but to be an example in putting people before profits. Brands need to do more than publish a mere social media post saying they support the environment or other social causes because today’s audiences are quick to identify greenwashing. Maybe that’s why, since the pandemic, only 38% of people believe businesses are actually succeeding at prioritizing people before profits. And it’s no longer new information that purpose-driven brands are doing better, especially when the world is going through a historic moment.

Bottom line: everything is connected. Companies need to be able to not only infuse purpose into their core business model but identify the position of this purpose in the larger socio-economic, environmental, and cultural reality. Investing in true collaborations with partners who are bringing about actual, real-world change (incidentally, here are some smart tips on how to make that happen) is a great way to bring this to life. For example, a coalition of organizations has drafted a #JustRecovery plan from COVID-19, one that is inclusive of all lived experiences. Even before the coronavirus entered our vocabulary, the Green New Deal (both in its US and Canadian versions) presented a solution that would benefit diverse communities (indigenous, migrants, and more), even while tackling climate change. 

The action plans are all out there. The world is now watching companies to see how they will be a piece of the solution puzzle.