To be clear, the coronavirus pandemic is a tragedy , a human nightmare unspooling in overloaded hospitals and unemployment offices with unnerving speed, barreling toward a horizon darkened by economic disaster and crowded with portents of suffering to come. But this global crisis is also an inflection point for that other global crisis, the slower one with even higher stakes. As the United Nations secretary-general recently noted, the threat from coronavirus is temporary whereas the threat from heatwaves, floods and extreme storms resulting in the loss of human life will remain with us for years.
The novel Covid-19 made it clear to many of us that we have been living in a bubble, a bubble of false comfort and denial. The wealth we’ve accumulated – often at the expense of others – has shielded us from reality. Living behind screens, passing between capsules – our houses, cars, offices and shopping malls – we persuaded ourselves that contingency had retreated, that we had reached the point all civilizations seek: insulation from natural hazards.
In fact, I believe the last few weeks, as terrible as they have been for so many people, have taught us crucial lessons that we needed to learn in order to enter a new era of radical, collaborative action to cut emissions and slow climate change.
1- Global challenges have no national borders:
Some people used to think that they would be immune to global crises like climate change unfolding “on the other side of the world.” I think that the bubble has burst. No one is geographically immune to the coronavirus and the same is true for climate change.
2- As a society, we’re only as safe as our most vulnerable people :
During the COVID-19 outbreak, the elderly and those with health problems are more vulnerable to the coronavirus and the poor are more vulnerable to its economic impact. That makes us all more vulnerable too. That lesson has taken us into a space of solidarity that we’ve never seen before. We are taking care of each other both out of altruism and because we want to make sure that we’re all safe at the end. That’s exactly the thinking we need to deal with climate change.
3- Global challenges require systemic changes :
Changes that can only be activated by governments or companies. But they also require individual behavioral changes. We need both. We have seen over the past few weeks that governments can take radical action and we can change our behavior quite quickly.
4- Prevention is much better and easier than cure :
It’s cheaper and safer to prevent people from catching and spreading the virus than to attempt to treat huge numbers of cases at once. That’s always been the case in the health sector. And in climate change, it is much better to prevent runaway temperature rises than to figure out how to deal with the enormous consequences.
5- All our response measures need to be based on science:
There are a lot of myths around coronavirus, just as there are a lot of myths around climate change. But the countries and individuals basing their responses on what the health professionals are saying its better to combat this pandemic. Likewise on climate change, we must take action in line with what the science tells us, rather than following myths or misinformation.
We hope that the shock of this pandemic will jolt people out of their desire to ignore global issues like climate change. We really hope our growing sense of urgency, of solidarity, of stubborn optimism and empowerment to take action, can be one thing that rises out of this terrible situation. Because while we will, eventually, return to normal after this pandemic, the climate that we know as normal is never coming back.