The focus is and should be on coronavirus until the disease is maintained at a manageable and potentially curable level. However, we must prepare for life after coronavirus. For those not directly affected by the pandemic, the lockdown has potentially given some time to reflect on how we want our lives to look after the outbreak. It is important that we aim to shape our future in a sustainable way to ensure the longevity of our planet and society. To do this, we must put climate change at the top of our priorities globally.
Through reflection, what lessons learnt from the coronavirus pandemic can we bring to the fight against climate change?
1. Climate change is knocking on our doors. We need to act fast.
Climate change may have previously felt like an issue to overcome in the distant future. However, it is now more than ever clear that the impacts are right on our doorsteps. As an example, the intensity and frequency of extreme weather events are increasing. We need to continue to be prepared for such natural disasters and their impacts on resource availability; being prepared before will save money and lives after.
We have waited until the impacts of climate change are visible – climate change is here, but that doesn’t mean we should give up. We need to move forward sustainably to prevent further warming through decreasing energy consumption and improving efficiency in all aspects of life. We need to protect people and animals who are facing extreme climate-related risks, the increasing risk of poverty and famine.
Coronavirus has shown us that diseases can spill into our human communities through animal trading, as well as a loss of habitat and biodiversity. If we continue to destroy natural landscapes, the threat of disease, as well as resource depletion, becomes larger. Could nature be sending us a message that we are putting too much pressure on our natural system?
Researchers say that our continued encroachment on wild habitats will lead to more viruses (National Geographic’s Campaign for Nature); there cannot be sustainable human health without a strong ecosystem. We, therefore, need to prioritise climate change while still responding to urgent matters like future disease, as well as civil unrest and poverty. Everything is interlinked — our society cannot flourish without an environment. It is time to focus on the foundation of all our lives: our local and global ecosystem.
2. Governments can and should work to push forward climate action.
Governments need to work together to prioritise climate change after overcoming the coronavirus pandemic. The government has taken a strong stance during the pandemic by shutting down schools and recreational facilities; they ordered and did not ask. We cannot always rely on individuals to make choices that benefit greater society and thus restrictions should, on some scale, be legislated. The pandemic has shown that governments can help society make drastic changes quickly. If similar dedication were placed on fighting climate change, our energy consumption could be transformed and all of us could be part of the solution, not the problem.
Governments should take advantage of the ‘rebirth’ of society to start a period of sustainable degrowth, where environmentally damaging industries, like fossil fuels and airlines, are scaled back and green stimulus packages focused on clean energy technologies are launched. Investment in clean power, battery storage, carbon-capture and hydrogen, helped by the currently low-interest rates, would enable technologies to be developed to scale. Stimulus packages could also reskill workers into green-economy jobs through online training, which could help us answer sustainability challenges in healthcare, sanitation, food security and education. Ultimately, we need to move forward with new economic thinking, transitioning away from GDP to other measures that put the environment and people first, like Bhutan’s gross national happiness index, for example.
Instead of solely maintaining the present, governments must consider the future of their country and wider civilisation. Voters often reward politicians for fixing problems, but not for preventing them, which incentivises governments to prolong action on more difficult issues like climate change. We need to keep asking our governments, both locally and nationally, to do more – to take action and not kick climate change to the curb. We can and we must adapt our society to enable its longevity.
3. Media can help with global mobilisation.
Coronavirus has been the headline of every news article, gripping everyone’s attention. Compared to the recent fires in Australia or the pollution crisis in China, the level of media attention given to the pandemic is incomparable. Climate change communication in the media is avoidable and, when present, is often apocalyptic and appeals to reason. Apocalyptic communication can cause people to disengage and only manages to motivate a few. Instead, the media needs to ensure that the reader can see how they can act in a climate-friendly way easily and what individual benefits that would provide. A behaviour change becomes more likely the more convenient it is. With the help of media, manageable change with big positive impacts can be popularised and individuals can band together to fight climate change.
Rising above the flames
We must focus on building stronger, universal commitments to fight climate change globally. We need to pair global knowledge with local innovation and facilitate community-centric individual behaviour change. We will overcome the coronavirus pandemic. We will see you at the pandemic finish line, the start of our sustainable future.