It’s time to attach a Do Not Resuscitate tag to the fossil, airline, and car companies that have been desperately trolling for government bailouts in response to the economic crisis brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, UK essayist and activist George Monbiot argues in a recent post for The Guardian.
Rather than going along with the companies’ demands for lavish financial support, governments “should either buy up the dirty industries and turn them towards clean technologies, or do what they often call for but never really want: let the market decide,” he writes. “In other words, allow these companies to fail,” while providing transition support to vulnerable workers and “refashioning the economy to provide new jobs in different sectors.”
Monbiot says the current economic crash is governments’ “second great chance to do things differently,” and they didn’t do so well the first time, in 2008. “Vast amounts of public money were spent reassembling the filthy old economy, while ensuring that wealth remained in the hands of the rich,” he writes. “Today, many governments appear determined to repeat that catastrophic mistake,” with the Bank of England buying debt from colossal fossils, the UK government loaning discount airline easyJet £600 million with no green strings attached, and many jurisdictions “sweeping away pollution laws” to benefit fossils while “freezing out renewable energy”.
But those are deliberate policy choices, not predestined results. “The ‘free market’ has always been a product of government policy,” he writes, and “the dependency of enterprises on public policy has seldom been greater in capitalist nations than it is today. Many major industries are now entirely beholden to the state for their survival. Governments have the oil industry over a barrel—hundreds of millions of unsaleable barrels, to be more precise—just as they had the banks over a barrel in 2008. Then, they failed to use their power to eradicate the sector’s socially destructive practices and rebuild it around human needs. They are making the same mistake today,” even though decisive majorities of voters across 14 countries support a greener economy and faster action on climate change.
Monbiot calls on the UK government to drop its plans to build new roads, scale back air travel rather than expanding airports, commit to keeping fossil fuels in the ground, and invest instead in public transport, walking and cycling infrastructure, green energy, and better neighbourhood design.
It adds up to the green new deal campaigners were demanding before the pandemic hit, “but please let’s stop describing it as a stimulus package,” he concludes. “We have stimulated consumption too much over the past century, which is why we face environmental disaster. Let us call it a survival package, whose purpose is to provide incomes, distribute wealth, and avoid catastrophe, without stoking perpetual economic growth. Bail out the people, not the corporations. Bail out the living world, not its destroyers. Let’s not waste our second chance.”