As empathetic as we believe ourselves to be, when we read about wars and famines and floods that take place in the other hemisphere, or maybe even in the same city, we feel a fleeting sense of remorse. After all, how can we grasp the gravity of a situation if we don’t experience it ourselves? The COVID-19 pandemic has been one of those rare events in humanity’s history that has managed to tie the entire world together using the thick ropes of tragedy. There is most certainly not one person on this planet who has not experienced some form of a life-altering revelation or, at the very least, some whiplash in the past year and three quarters. And there’s nothing more revealing about the human spirit than a shared tragedy amongst billions.
Now bear with me as I digress to… climate change! As absurd as it sounds, the pandemic has given us a wealth of information about climate change, which I’ll dive into in a bit, but what’s especially interesting are the parallels we can draw between the two and the lessons we can learn from it. For one, climate change is another one of those phenomena that affect every single one of us, but evidently, it’s on a much grander scale than COVID-19. On paper, the mitigation of the pandemic has a lot of things going for it. There’s a sense of urgency; there’s a life-or-death component; there are even incentives owing to economic and political fallout. One might assume then that all of humanity would be on board to get vaccinated, wear a mask (or two), use hand disinfectant, and leave the house only when necessary (even if it might inconvenience us). Yet, we know that’s not true.
So, how do we tackle something like climate change? Not only is its sheer magnitude immense, but it’s also a lot harder to convince people that it’s even a problem in the first place. It’s not far-fetched to picture someone scoffing at a bunch of headlines that talk about how a global temperature increase of 2°C is alarming. Of course, it’s much easier to explain a virus because it’s more tangible–most people have experienced the flu. And since climate change is not as tangible, there’s no sense of urgency (despite there being a need for it), which leaves us in a limbo.
I know how this sounds: if we’ve fumbled with the pandemic; we stand no chance with climate change! But if we were to take a closer look at the pandemic, it is more than a story of despair. We’ve seen first-hand what humanity is capable of when pushed to the edge.
Who got the power? Corporations do.
Take corporations, for instance. When lockdowns were initiated worldwide, companies had to scramble to transform their workstations into remotely driven powerhouses on immensely short notice. And thus far, they’ve thrived. While that is a bit of a simplistic take on the matter, given how the pandemic has affected small businesses and resulted in layoffs, it does convey the potential that companies have to make a massive impact and the pace at which they’re capable of doing so. Companies have the potential to make or break progress, but when it comes to climate change, it’s been a bit of a steep climb thus far. Yet with the vested public interest, an evolution is taking place. Just go to a company’s website or social media page and gaze upon the slew of posts committing to sustainability and a negative carbon footprint.
Science is where it’s at.
The next one is a bit of a no-brainer–both the pandemic and climate change require scientific input. Politics and the human condition go hand-in-hand, so it’s usually no surprise when a scientific issue becomes political. What’s been remarkable about the pandemic is that countries have (imperfectly) integrated scientific input with their policy-making, allowing for a more robust approach. With climate change, it’s trickier, yet it’s evidently achievable.
There’s also a need for us to listen to the scientific community and see what they have to say. While blind faith has the potential to go haywire (a falsified paper about vaccinations is what spurred on the anti vaxx movement towards the end of the 1990s), succumbing to misinformation and disinformation has never been easier. It helps to take more than a few seconds to analyse words on a website.
Despite most vaccine developers going forward with clinical trials, we’ve also seen the astonishingly quick rate at which the vaccines were developed. Science is always ready to be accelerated–all it requires is a financial incentive to do so, and that’s still lacking in the climate change space.
There’s no one-size-fits-all.
Perhaps, of most importance, was the revelation that although the entire world was more or less fighting the same battle, the tools in our arsenal were not the same. While students in some parts of the world resumed their studies online, others couldn’t. And while some countries have had a surplus of vaccines, others have not. Social distancing is a bizarre concept in regions with a dense population, and self-isolation isn’t feasible for families who share a room.
When it comes to tackling climate change, we see a similar disparity. It’s simply not feasible for developing countries to implement the same policies as developed countries–they just don’t have the resources. Moreover, the factors that require the most consideration, be it deforestation in rainforests or endangered species, are unequivalently dispersed throughout the globe (usually in developing countries). As such, there is a need for developed countries to step in with the resources and aid in (and not take over) the efforts already underway. We’ve already seen this happen with the COVID-19 vaccine disparity, so we know it’s possible.
The pandemic’s impact on climate change.
The most surprising knowledge we’ve gained through the pandemic is the fact that global carbon dioxide emissions fell by only 6.4% (or 2.3 billion tonnes) in 2020. Despite most people being stuck at home, the resulting effect on carbon emissions was… subpar. While it doesn’t feel like an urgent matter, there is an evident need for a mass change in behaviour, or we’re bound to face some severe repercussions; we’re already experiencing a taste of what is to come. But now that we’ve already had a mini apocalypse, we know just what it takes. One question remains: will we be able to pull it off in the nick of time?