What the pandemic has to teach us about the climate crisis.
It’s hard not to see the parallels or rather LACK of parallels between the global response to the Covid crisis and the response to our ongoing climate crisis.
With Covid 19, once the threat was identified, everything changed on a dime. Life-altering sacrifice was demanded and given. The immediacy of the danger and the threat to the global economy spurred the world into unprecedented action in ways the climate emergency, despite the far greater threat it poses to all our futures, has not.
Covid made us understand, in a heartbeat, just how inter-connected we all are. We saw with frightening immediacy, how someone sneezing half way around the globe could affect our nearest and dearest. And we understood quickly (or most of us did) that by protecting others (through wearing masks, distancing and the other small and big sacrifices we have all made) that we are, in fact, protecting ourselves. Through massive government investment and cooperation across national boundaries, the world community marshalled the best scientific minds, turbo charging research and innovation to create solutions (vaccines) at a miraculous speed.
Imagine if the same commitment and focus could be brought to saving the planet. Scaling up and deploying renewable energy solutions at the speed we need to avoid the most catastrophic effects of warming is still within our grasp. According to the best science, we will need to cut our GHG emissions in half by 2030 and reach net zero emissions by 2050, at the absolute latest, in order to avoid the worst ravages of runaway climate change.
For some reason, it continues to be a cognitive challenge for us to recognize the existential threat climate change poses to human civilization but the pandemic response has proven that, in terms of solutions - where there is a will, there’s a way. The technology is ready to go. Renewable energy is cheaper than fossil fuels in many parts of the world, already. And although, the transition to green energy and building a new energy infrastructure will require massive investment upfront, running the global economy on renewables will actually be significantly cheaper. We will also save TRILLIONS of dollars by avoiding the consequences of climate change down the road and create millions of good, high paying jobs along the way.
The only thing missing is the political will. Change is never easy but our only rational path forward is for governments to phase out fossil fuels though regulation, a meaningful tax on polluters and public pandemic-level investment in a clean energy transition on a time line set out by the best science.
Despite the hardships of Covid, there have been some positive unintended consequences. Cleaner air, less time stuck in traffic and we have all re-discovered the natural beauty, variety and magic of the places that we live in. Our extended “staycation” has meant taking advantage of our parks and public places with newly passionate enthusiasm, even testing out European-style cafe life on our major boulevards in unprecedented ways. The same will be true of the rewards of a fossil free future even if there are some sacrifices along the way. But the biggest silver lining of this nightmare may be that it has given us a blueprint for action on our other global crisis. Here’s hoping.