Countries’ responses to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic have ranged from swift, decisive, and forward-thinking to delayed, contradictory, and reactionary. What can these global responses teach us about what is needed to act on climate change in an effective and equitable way?
1. We Need Transformative System-wide Change. The pandemic has shown that society must change, willingly or unwillingly. The way we live and work must change. People don’t have to be traveling all the time. However, even if we as individuals did everything we could to cut our carbon footprint, to live within our personal boundaries, that would not be sufficient to fix the climate crisis or any other ecological crisis. The changes need to be transformative and system-wide.
2. We Need Biodiversity to Remain Healthy. High biodiversity reduces the risk of animal vector diseases in human populations. Many species have been rapidly losing habitat because of deforestation and continued warmer-than-average temperatures. As a result, animals are being pushed toward human-populated areas, which increases the risk of transmission of zoonotic diseases.
3. We Need to Invest in Nature. By shining a light on nature and showing its ecosystem value, we can rebuild the economy in a different way. Green energy technologies boost economies through job creation and market investments.
4. We Need to Close the Psychological Distance. The biggest myth about climate change is that the problem won’t affect us as individuals. Climate change puts the health and safety of our family, our friends, our community, the people and places we care about at risk, just like the pandemic.
5. We Need to Make It Personal. Climate scientists and communicators can help us close the psychological distance through effective stories and counterarguments about the consequences of climate change.
6. Natural and Anthropogenic Crises Pose Serious Socio-Economic Risks. Like the COVI-19 pandemic, climate change will lead to significant economic and social disruptions. Land areas will be lost, water resources will dwindle, biodiversity will diminish, and public health will be affected. Under a business-as-usual scenario, we will see social unrest and mass displacements. Natural and anthropogenic crises will occur, even under the most optimistic scenarios. Science-based emergency planning will have to become an integral part of any adaptation strategy.
7. We Need a Just Transition. We must ensure that the transition to a green future is just and fair for everyone. Economically vulnerable people are forced to work in ever more dangerous conditions or lose the paycheck they need to feed their families. The changing climate puts these same groups at risk.
8. We Can Fix This. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is a global crisis that is threatening human health. The same is true for climate change. In both instances, an urgent and comprehensive response on a global scale is needed. This pandemic has shown that we are all part of an interconnected system. We need to care about our planet, about the integrity of our ecosystems, and respect the limits on the resources we can use.
(Inspired by an article by Kimberly M. S. Cartier in EOS, 101, 24 April 2020.)