Between Just Transition and the Corona Virus

By Aviva Shemesh

Not so long ago (who remembers what it was like before the Corona virus entered our lives anyway…) I wrote here about the Just Transition approach that is taking hold among a growing number of countries now planning their transition into a renewable energy-based economy. This approach basically means that when making such major transitions, that require the reorganization of the economy, we must ensure that no one is left behind and that everybody enjoys the fruits of the transition. Since I wrote that post the situation has dramatically changed. The world is now under attack by an invisible enemy, known as Covid-19 or the Corona virus, that caught us unprepared, reshuffling everything we know about ourselves and the world. In many ways, this pandemic teaches us an important lesson about ourselves by forcing us all to live within limits and constraints that none of us has ever imagined they are capable of. In spite of the challenging experience, we suddenly realize that we can live differently. While we are deprived of the things, that up to now we took for granted, we are also given the opportunity to pause for a moment and reflect about the lessons we want to draw out of the situation that is imposed upon us, and about the meaning of resilience. In times of crisis like this, everyone is hurt, but there are those who are hurt even more, with whom we should stand in solidarity because this is the moral thing to do. This is precisely the meaning of a resilient society that cares for the vulnerable and the weakened, who are very often those lacking the material means and social capital to emerge out of crises.

Sitting at home in isolation allows us to slow down and think about the way we lived our lives before the Corona virus appeared, and about the practices and habits we would like to maintain when the Corona virus becomes a distant memory. This is the moment to think about our relentless self-serving pursuit of titles, assets and money and how everything became meaningless in a split of a second. In my real and virtual social networks, I witness gestures of solidarity calling for volunteers to help the elderly, single mothers, those who lost their livelihoods in a blink of an eye and the migrants who have become even more transparent than they usually are. In the absence of alternatives, we transitioned to a model of mutual reliance while realizing that counting on imports from China and the rest of the world is not such a good strategy and we better develop our own local economy. We have all seen the satellite imagery showing us the situation of air pollution above China, before and after the spread of the virus, which illustrate, first and foremost, the contribution of human activity, that knows no limit, to greenhouse gas emissions. The images have illustrated what climate activists have been asking us to do for a long time now: reduce flights, use renewable energy, develop local economy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions in general.

In Spain, the government announced it would accept the position of the leftist party Podemos, who demanded that measures be taken to ensure that the working class, the middle class, and small businesses stay afloat. Among the measures mentioned, are a moratorium on mortgage payments for those whose income has been impaired, banning the disconnection from the water and electricity grid of those who have lost their jobs, and the banning of evictions for not paying rent. In Italy and Spain, and now in Israel, people stood on their balconies and applauded as a tribute to their respective medical staffs, who make such a personal sacrifice to protect us all. Mostly, the Corona virus taught us that we are all in the same boat and without cooperation and solidarity at the local, national, and global levels we have no future on our planet.

The manifestations of solidarity that we have been witnessing are the principles that underpin the concept of Sustainability and Just Transition. Assuming that the challenges we are experiencing now, will be present also when the ramifications of global warming become more acute, civil society must demand that such solidarity manifestations be translated into a national social policy as the country transitions to a low-carbon economy. The Corona virus will sooner or later disappear, but it illustrates what social solidarity and resilience mean and, mostly, it shows us that we are capable of changing our habits. 

How do you think we, as civil society, should prepare during the crisis and beyond? Share your thoughts with us.

Most importantly, stay healthy.

Photo by: Martin Sanchez on Unsplash


The Heschel Center for Sustainability works to promote a sustainable Israel: a just and cohesive society, a robust and democratic economy, and a healthy and productive environment for all its residents, now and in the future.