According to Betteridge’s law of headlines, “Any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no”. It’s not a law, of course, but an adage and it is named after British technology journalist Ian Betteridge. It’s also of relatively recent vintage – a mere 11 years.
Despite Betteridge’s law, I would urge against a reflexive ‘no’ to the question: Can we tackle both climate change and Covid-19 recovery?
Why would we say ‘no’ when climate change and Covid-19 recovery are not mutually exclusive; when the worldwide economic lockdown has shown we can have cleaner air, rivers and canals after just a few weeks of flying and driving less, keeping our distance from animal habitats and generally consuming only what we need?
Recently, Christiana Figueres, former leader of the UN climate secretariat, told the Financial Times, that a resilient recovery from Covid-19 needed integration of “the solutions to both crises into a coherent response”. The sequence, she said, was clear: “After immediate health, safety and social protection measures, inclusive recovery programmes must propel the global economy towards sustainable growth and increased resilience. As we rebuild, we can open our eyes to the risks and opportunities on the horizon”.
Not everyone agrees. Benjamin Zycher, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, says it’s not possible to go with carbon taxes and green policies as a pandemic-hit world moves towards ramping up economic growth. Mr Zycher believes that unconventional energy choices would sharply increase the cost of conventional energy even though “inexpensive energy is necessary for economic advancement by the world’s poor and for recovery from the staggering economic effects of Covid-19”.
Personally, I incline to Ms Figueres’ common-sense view of building back better and greener whenever the world sees the other side of the coronavirus crisis.