Hope for Climate Action in the Age of COVID-19

COVID-19 has incited unprecedented united action to stifle the spread of disease. Witnessing the collaborative and urgent response to the pandemic gives me hope for an escalation of global efforts to mitigate another serious threat: climate change.

COVID-19 and climate change are inherently similar: they pose serious threats to humanity; their severity is directly impacted by human action; and their self proliferation generates an urgency to “flatten the curve,” (or, in the case of climate change, to limit warming since pre-industrial temperatures to well below 2 degrees Celsius). These similarities warrant similar levels of mobilization. Thus, in taking unprecedented steps to address COVID-19, we are creating a blueprint for mobilizing substantial global action to address climate change.

Never before have I seen the swift, wide-scale action which has characterized our response to COVID-19. I now have more confidence in the ability of entire countries to break political and economic inertia and respond effectively to a crisis that requires sweeping and immediate action. We are seeing world leaders (with a glaring exception) prioritize the urgent instructions of scientists above the immediate needs of the economy. We are witnessing the alignment of priorities across all political parties, leading to prompt and effective political action in the face of a common crisis. We are observing the private sector’s adaptability to new regulations and public demands emerging from a crisis that requires immediate economic reform. Finally, we are watching each and every day as individuals and organizations take action to support those most critically impacted by this transition.

While the necessary approach to curbing climate change is in many ways more complicated than our response to the Coronavirus, the essential steps to bring about these changes are the same. Both crises require that:

  • governments follow the recommendations of scientists and temporarily put partisan battles to rest;
  • businesses adapt to and support necessary economic transitions; and
  • communities support those who suffer from ensuing social and economic transitions.

Our response to COVID-19 is teaching us how to take these steps and demonstrating our potential to mobilize in the face of an urgent, globally pervasive crisis whose severity is directly impacted by human behaviour.

The question, then, is whether we will mobilize.

COVID-19 will not automatically activate the necessary changes to address climate change. In fact, many of us will oppose increases in government spending and changes in energy production which could stifle short-term economic growth and employment.

However, this pandemic will alter the public and private perceptions of the necessity to respond urgently to critical issues. COVID-19 is providing a vivid and rare reminder that Western countries are not immune to the most pervasive and damaging global issues that plague the rest of the world. We can no longer separate ourselves from the consequences of our actions.

It is important to note that the extent of widespread change required to address climate change is nearly impossible to achieve in a state of stability and steady growth. In the case of an issue as complicated and intangible as climate change, when things appear fine on the surface, it is nearly impossible to garner the public will to make sweeping changes. Sometimes, a system needs to experience a shock to make any meaningful change. Maybe, in addition to showing us a path for widespread action, and sparking faith in our ability to do so, this pandemic can be that shock for us.

Stay tuned Collingwood Climate Action Team will be launching a series on applying the lessons of COVID19 through sustainable climate activities we can make in our own community.

 

Born and raised in Collingwood, Allison O’Halloran is a recent Economics graduate from McMaster University’s Arts and Science program. She will be attending a Master of Climate Change at the University of Waterloo in the fall.