Are they the same?
Covid is fast, sometimes visually brutal, singular. It hurts people like us, now.
Climate Change is slow, sometimes visually brutal, most times invisible, has many pieces and many villains. It hurt ‘them’, now and in the future.
From my article:
Size does not matter; Time does; Having a clear villain does; Clear communication does.
The economic damage from this virus, and from the lockdowns to prevent the virus spread, will be vast. The UN estimated a $1 trillion blow. Stock markets reportedly lost $26 trillion from their February peak. These are big numbers, and every government stands ready to throw fiscal rectitude to the winds when stimulating their economies.
Over the next few years, Climate-related disasters will cost the world far more in dollars and lives than COVID-19. Longer term, far more.
Climate Change expected to shave off trillions from the world’s GDP by 2050. For now, extreme events cost just the US $312.7 billion in 2017 and $91 billion in 2018. In 2019, weather-related disasters, a fingerprint of a warming climate, cost the world $229 billion in damages alone.
Yet, governments have not taken action. Worse, many act in the opposite direction, with the IMF estimating that the subsidies for fossil fuels extends to $5.2 trillion in 2017.
Let’s leave morals and compassion aside – hard to do, since hundreds of millions are affected today. But leave them aside. On economics alone, discounting costs, depending, of course, on the discount rate, acting on climate change makes sense. Yet we haven’t. While we have taken expensive, draconian action to limit the spread of a virus with an average fatality rate of < 1.5 percent for people aged less than 60. Given low testing levels, and the fact that the disease is asymptomatic in so many people, the fatality rate could be even lower.
Why is that?
One possibility is that the slow burn of climate change is psychologically different from the quick blow of the virus. Think of the proverbial frogs in the pot of water set to boil. Time matters.
Another possibility is that there is a clear villain, who everyone hates – the SARS-CoV-2 – in this pandemic. There is overwhelming evidence than burning fossil fuels are the villain in climate change. But not everyone hates them.
Yet another possibility is that the people leading the cry for action are doctors, who are comfortable making clear and compelling disease trajectory predictions, with fatality rates, based on limited data. Compare that with the hedged, unclear calls-for-action in climate change. Enough said.
Will action on COVID translate to action on Climate Change?
There are two schools of thought: some senior corporate leaders believe that this event will act as a reset, causing people to rethink the way they do business, and eventually lead to a better world.
While I hope that is the case, the reality may be that the economic fall out of this will cause the world to think nothing is as important as the consumption economy that runs the world. In the coming months, as the economic carnage deepens, industry will loudly clamor for bailouts touting losses and job losses. Climate change considerations will likely not be paid much heed. The only (slim) hope for us to choose the former path is to get influencers to speak out now.
My husband says the range of beliefs might shrink and shift. I.e., thanks to COVID, the median position of skeptic vs believer might shift to the believer side.
This short-term lock down cannot last. Will habits formed now – virtual teaching, and virtual interactions and virtual working stay and be seeded? In some cases, sure. But enough to be meaningful? It’s difficult to say.
Throughout humanity’s existence, the wild has always been the ‘other. Thoreau put it aptly, when he said ‘What we call wildness is a civilization other than our own.’
Evidence till now suggests two coronavirus epidemics – SARS, and now COVID – probably jumped from animal to human in the course of wildlife trade and slaughter. Prudence would dictate, leave this be. The world has paid a heavy price.
Here, the link is clearer. The world will move away from reuse to throw-away. Our landfills, the air and our water bodies will pay the price.