21st century crisis responses – COVID-19 as a lesson for climate action

Timely Insight #4 – Extended Edition

“What would it look like when the world actually decides to take on the climate crisis? It would look like what we’re seeing right now. Media coverage of the issue 24/7. Consistent headlines about updated death tolls. Experts appearing on the news daily to update the public on the crisis. Everyone stopping everything and putting the world on pause to deal with the immediate crisis at hand.”

That’s the cry for action by a Zero Hour co-founder, Jamie Margolin, in TeenVogue  (surprising source, is it not?) this week.

Global disruptions to business as usual in the attempt to curb the COVID-19 outbreak has spawned quite some reflections on the direct effects of climate change and the long-lost political will to tackle this crisis at scale.

In this Weekend Special of the Daily Perspective, we’re exploring what can be learnt from the now-proven ability of governments worldwide (to varying degrees, of course) to act urgently on a critical matter of public health?

Climate change, inherently a matter of public health too, albeit a more elusive one, has struggled to mobilize anywhere close to the same scale of response as the ongoing outbreak. Despite its urgency and extent the crisis-style response is for the most part yet to be seen. Adele Peters of FastCompany offers us a image of what such a mobilization would look like: 

“We’ve seen that governments can act, and people can change their behavior, in a very short amount of time” (…) If the world was responding to climate change like it’s responding to the coronavirus—the level of urgency that the science says is necessary—things would look dramatically different. “We would see a lot of different things happening all at the same time”

Read the article here.

As you will have noticed, there are similarities between the crises of corona and climate change respectively, but there are certainly also differences. To effectively adopt the lessons of mobilization in the 21st century, we need to discern these. Nives Dolsak and Aseem Prakash of Forbes draws our attention to some key factors:
“Climate policies are hobbled by “spatial optimism,” whereby individuals believe that their risk of getting affected by climate change is less than for others. This reduces the willingness to tolerate personal sacrifices for deep decarbonization. Coronavirus episode began with some level of spatial optimism in the Western world. After all, it was happening in China. But this confidence has quickly disappeared. Globalization means a lot of international travel and trade.”

Read the article here.

“(…) the measures that we are ready to take to face this coronavirus are much more severe than the measures we would be ready to take to face climate change or atmospheric pollution.” Interestingly, this is true even though the pandemic crisis in many ways mimics the climate crisis.

Full articles here and here.

We’ll be back with a fresh daily perspective tomorrow morning, where we’ll be continuing to explore the effects of the virus on people, societal structures, our future, and more.

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We’ll be back, possibly with the most important perspective so far – what’s next? We’ll glance into the future, exploring what might arise out of the ashes of the pandemic. Until then, remember to breathe.

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Timely Insights in an interconnected world

Timely Insights for Climate Action digs into current developments to illuminate an interconnected world.

A global pandemic with severe impacts on people’s lives in most places, says a lot about the times we live in. Join us from your self-quarantine in exploring timely insights from COVID-19 outbreak and beyond, and what it means for climate action.

We’re compiling existing articles to discuss and highlight how they help us understand the ways in which the world is connected. In these days of social distancing, we aim to support ourselves and readers in leveraging the learnings from what’s unfolding right now, to be better suited for catalyzing climate action.

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