Coronavirus and climate change: two crises but the same message?
I did not want my 73-year-old body trapped with 8,000 refugees coming from hot-spots of coronavirus contagion washing up onto its shore every day. Nope, working near a refugee camp on a Greek island in early March was too high risk for this retired microbiologist.
For me, living near already unhealthy people in a crowded and dirty refugee camp was like voyaging on an infected cruise ship full of careless passengers. So I came home, just before the rush.
On my return, I see that us earthlings now face both a viral pandemic and climate change. Oh great. But I also see a silver lining within the viral cloud.
Both crises are impacting on our health and safety. Both are well documented by competent science and observable evidence. But in spite of these similarities, society has responded to them very differently.
Governments are spending billions to combat the coronavirus; and yet unlike climate change, this massive government response to a viral disease has not been opposed by rants in the media about how big bad government is intruding into our lives, how dishonest scientists exaggerate its seriousness, or how it’s all some sort of viral hoax.
And citizens are responding to this virus by radically changing their lifestyle; for example, by travelling less and staying home.
In contrast, our response to climate change is timid; less speedy, less urgent, and less financially robust compared with this viral disaster — admittedly for complex reasons. The average Canadian is willing to spend only about $12 a month to combat global warming according to a government survey, compared with the approximately $200 a month per person it’s spending to combat the coronavirus.
This enormous response to coronavirus, by both citizens and governments, dramatically demonstrates that an equally huge response to climate change is possible. Because by spending $100 billion on coronavirus, we now know that our society can spend that kind of public money to fund a green new deal to stop climate change without the national financial roof falling onto our collective heads.
And big personal changes are happening. If individuals like you and me can change our lifestyle to combat a viral pandemic, by travelling less and staying home more; then we can certainly change our lifestyle to reduce our carbon emissions, by travelling less and staying home more. And in fact, most changes needed to replace the fossil fuel industry will be less severe than those needed to fight the coronavirus.
Both this viral pandemic and climate change give us the same message: big changes in government spending and in individual lifestyles can be accomplished when we see real danger. And in each case, we need to act now — better eating habits, less travelling, more use of renewable energy, and so on.
If Italian people can sing from their balconies to combat this virus, then we Canadians can sing from the windows of our solar-powered homes: “replace fossil fuel pipelines with solar energy pipelines”. OK I have the lyrics, not sure of the tune.
Peter Nix, Cowichan Carbon Buster