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Coronavirus and climate change solutions require fairer society, says XR campaigner

No Going Back road protest on Ditton Lane last month. Picture: XR
No Going Back road protest on Ditton Lane last month. Picture: XR

The recent Extinction Rebellion Cambridge No Going Back action, illustrating how straightforward it is to introduce safer cycle routes and more space for pedestrians in the city, is part of a campaign for a world which is not only greener but fairer.

XR Cambridge and XR Youth Cambridge are backing the national No Going Back campaign, pushing for a just transition away from a transport system that relies on fossil fuels. The groups also insist there is no need for the solutions to the environmental crisis to create deeper social divides – quite the opposite.

The coronavirus crisis has undoubtedly hit us all hard, with life changing beyond recognition for many. The prevailing narrative is that ‘we’re all in this together’ – but new research shows that, inevitably, some are more in it than others.

Analysis of more than 17m NHS health records by the group OpenSAFELY, involving researchers from the University of Oxford and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, has shown that deprivation is one of the major risk factors for death from Covid-19.

The study concludes that “deprivation is also a major risk factor with… little of the excess risk explained by co-morbidity or other risk factors” – suggesting other social factors are at work. Disparities in income, housing and access to healthcare mean we are not all at the same risk from this virus, and those with fewer resources and fewer choices are going to be hit the hardest.

Inevitably, the inequality in our society is being magnified by the Covid-19 crisis.

Some obvious local comparisons include the coronavirus mortality rates, which are significantly higher in King’s Hedges than in Trumpington. This illustrates the ways in which environmental breakdown exacerbates global inequalities. We can already see around the world that some groups are dramatically more at risk from the effects of the climate crisis. For example, work by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the UN has repeatedly shown that women and girls are disproportionately affected by the environmental, social and economic consequences of climate change.

Emily Ashton, Extinction Rebellion Cambridge campaigner
Emily Ashton, Extinction Rebellion Cambridge campaigner

But what is often overlooked is how inequalities within our own society could be deepened not only by the effects of climate breakdown, but by the solutions put in place to mitigate it. The debate around transport brings together all these pressing issues, as we collectively try to imagine how we can emerge from the pandemic with a new, greener transport system that is accessible to all. A transport revolution based on electric cars, for instance, is only for those who can afford them, and any transport plan needs to take into account the fact that not everyone is able to walk or cycle, and that those in rural areas have different needs to urban populations.

With the Institute for Fiscal Studies last month calling for the price of public transport to be increased, and the government asking people to go back to work preferably without using buses and trains – but presenting no viable alternatives – these questions become urgent.

A great opportunity has been presented, but there is also a real danger that the situation will tip the other way and we will end up with a transport system that benefits neither the environment nor the majority of the population.

We need to find solutions that leave nobody behind.

Extinction Rebellion campaigners during Elizabeth Way cycle lanes action last month. Picture: Jeremy Peters
Extinction Rebellion campaigners during Elizabeth Way cycle lanes action last month. Picture: Jeremy Peters

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