By: Emilie B.
The coronavirus is opening our eyes to many realities. Here are five lessons to take away from this crisis that better prepare us to deal with climate change:
- The role of the government is crucial in a time of crisis.
As the pandemic makes its way across the world, we’re realizing that trust in institutions is paramount in a time of crisis. This virus is testing the limits of all of our systems, bringing deep societal structures to the surface, country by country. With the stock market in limbo, unemployment through the roof, overflowing hospitals, who do we look to for information, civil protection, guidance? Who is responsible for containing the virus in addition to preserving the social and economic wellbeing of society? The government.
As is the case with climate change, it’s become clear that the market doesn’t have all the answers. We need to apply that same thinking to climate action and start acknowledging the role of the government in a time of crisis. Currently, governments around the world are scrambling to come up with national crisis plans to contain the virus and stimulus packages to rebuild their post-pandemic economy. Their actions today can make or break containment of the virus, and these trillion dollar plans can define the next few years of our lives.
Let’s reckon with that power, hold them accountable to it by participating in the political process when we can, and keep pushing for a green stimulus to tackle the coronavirus and climate change simultaneously.
- Our best defense? Science.
It’s become evident that ignoring science has fatal consequences. The politicians who refused to acknowledge the early warnings of public health and scientific experts, or are pressed to reopen their economies, are and will be paying the price. We owe our lives to the scientific community, heroically working to advise governments, keep the public informed in real-time, run medical trials, find treatments, make projections, save lives. Why shouldn’t we place the same trust in science when it comes to climate change?
For years, climate science has been suppressed, distorted and discredited by interest groups in order to stall action on climate change. It’s taken the climate movement years to unravel that doubt, and while climate deniers make up a small minority, we can still hear them loud and clear. “There is no scientific consensus,” they say. Yet this pandemic is giving us a better understanding of the scientific process, which can help us poke holes in the logic of denialism. “Science isn’t just a body of facts” but a work-in-progress. We’re understanding the virus more and more everyday, just as we are understanding climate change better everyday. Situations evolve, data and methodologies need to be reworked all the time, but it doesn't mean that the overarching reality is any less true: the coronavirus still exists, and so does climate change.
Science is our best defense, crisis or no crisis. Now we really know how vital is is to elevate its role in the fight against climate change.
- Our systems are fragile, and we need to build resilience.
The coronavirus is a devastating shock to our system, exposing shortcomings in national crisis planning, civil protection systems, healthcare, sanitation, supply chains, housing, labor laws, and more. Most of all, it’s making it painfully clear that governments have long ignored people on the margin, left with the economic and social burden of social distancing measures. Could it take a crisis of this magnitude to snap us out of our old ways and make room for a more resilient, progressive, sustainable future?
Many factors that increase vulnerability to the virus (age, economic status, health, racial inequality, pollution) are also those that create vulnerability to climate change. Therefore, addressing these health-related factors can be doubly effective in achieving climate resilience. From an economic standpoint, we're likely to see companies and governments diversify their supply chains and bring production closer to home, thereby reducing the amount of goods flown around the world. Considering most of China shut down as the outbreak got out of hand, the many countries and companies who relied on China for manufacturing were left politically and economically unstable — and they wouldn’t want to relive that again.
This crisis is helping us see the need for systemic change, as well as the importance of building economic, social, environmental resilience to future shocks.
- Change is possible — and desirable.
For those in lockdown, we’ve made radical changes to our lifestyles in ways we thought unimaginable. And for many in affluent countries, those lifestyles weren’t the most eco-friendly — addiction to traveling, hyperconsumerism, overexploitation of nature. Now, we’re finding ways to stay connected without traveling, we’re working from home, and we’re seeing opportunities for medical, education, religious and government services to be shifted online. Whether we like it or not, this is proof that humans are adaptable creatures capable of behavioral and lifestyle change.
A major obstacle to climate action was the inability to see change. We’ve been blind to and accepting of how polluted our environments are; however, life in confinement has given us a taste of a better future to work towards. There is a reason why images of dolphins in the Venice canal, the Himalayas, or turtles hatching on deserted beaches are going viral — were marveling at the idea that there exists a healthier, cleaner and biodiversity-friendly alternative to what we’re used to. Companies are also beginning to realize that they can put in place more flexible working policies, and certain governments like France are reviving their economies to make medical equipment, instead of relying on foreign powers like they used to.
We don’t have to resign to the status quo. It’s time to recognize that we — individuals, businesses, governments — are all capable of change that can be beneficial to us and to the environment.
- We’re capable of collaboration, compassion & solidarity.
This virus is rallying the world around a single issue like never before. Inversely, climate change is difficult to rally around because it is manifested across time, space and in severity in wildly different ways. While some countries — like in the Global South — have been feeling the devastating effects for years and are in dire need of international action, others don’t yet feel the urgency to act. Now, we’re getting the profound sense that we’re all dependent upon each other and that international coordination is vital. That is the kind of thinking we need in order to act on climate change.
This pandemic also reveals an important truth: those working in retail, delivery, transportation, sanitation — often migrants or women, and relegated to the margins of the labor force — are holding our society together. Suddenly, in a time of crisis, they went from ‘unskilled’ to ‘essential workers.’ It seems we’re finally starting to recognize their hard work in maintaining our daily lives, and that is the appreciation and self-awareness we need to put in place progressive climate policies that don’t leave anyone behind.
Finally, compassion and solidarity will be crucial as we start to experience the effects of climate change more severely over time. Things won’t always be like they used to, and this unfortunately will not be the last crisis to hit. It’s humanizing, and it’s comforting to think that in a time of crisis, we have it in us to set our individual misfortunes aside and come together. Public applauses for health workers, supplies delivered to elderly or vulnerable people, small acts of kindness of all sorts — it all matters. And it will help us get through these hardships together.