Hopes that the pandemic will accelerate the transition to a cleaner world are already running into a political wall: the “shock doctrine” of disaster capitalism outlined by the author and activist Naomi Klein. In her book of the same name, the Canadian writer describes how a powerful global elite exploits national crises to push through unpopular and extreme measures on the environment and labour rights.
This is what is happening in the United States and elsewhere. Oil company executives have lobbied Donald Trump for a bailout. Under the cover of the crisis, the White House has rolled back fuel-economy standards for the car industry, the Environmental Protection Agency has stopped enforcing environmental laws, three states have criminalised fossil fuel protesters and construction has resumed on the KXL oil pipeline. The US government’s massive economic stimulus bill also included a $50bn bailout for aviation companies. Environmental groups are urging the UK and European Union not to do the same.