Queen's Policy Engagement

This is what an emergency looks like !

Professor John Barry looks at what lessons can be learned from the pandemic for addressing our planetary emergency.

This is what an emergency looks like !

My father, a wise Irish peasant from Co. Wicklow in Ireland, like a lot of parents had many stock sayings that I grew up with. “Your health is your wealth” was one these and is one that has come back to be as I reflect on the unfolding coronavirus pandemic across the world and the responses of citizens and states.

Which is more important? Wealth or health? This is one of the lessons from the coronavirus, what happens to states and citizens when we are forced to choose health, specifically public health, as the over-riding social imperative? Life and its preservation over (almost) everything else? Why is it that our political leaders listen to and make decisions informed by the science in the case of coronavirus – closing schools, restricting travel, putting in place financial support for those who ‘self-isolate’ etc. – but not when it comes to the much more dangerous climate and ecological emergency?

Crises are events where ‘business as usual’ is forced to change. Crises are also lessons in new ways of thinking and acting… Let’s hope, for hope’s sake, we do not lose either the lessons we are currently being taught by a harsh teacher or the multiple opportunities for more determined collective action on the planetary emergency this current moment offers.

John Barry is Professor of Green Political Economy at Queen’s University Belfast and author of The Politics of Actually Existing Unsustainability: Human Flourishing in a Climate-Changed, Carbon Constrained World.

Part of the Imagine Belfast Festival of Ideas and Politics.


Kevin Fearon
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Kevin Fearon is the Business Alliance Manager for the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences Faculty at Queen's University Belfast and manages the Queen's Policy Engagement initiative.

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