As we emerge from the depths of the COVID-19 crisis I find myself asking – can we draw any parallels to the way we have responded to this current crisis and the way we need to respond to the undoubtedly bigger crisis of climate change? Is it helpful to compare?
I suspect the answer is that it some ways it is and in others it isn’t.
The right response to this current crisis has been science-led and people all over the world have accepted that when scientists say bad stuff is going to happen, we need to sit up and listen.
It has also reminded us that some problems are truly global, neither the virus nor CO2 respect borders.
In that sense a comparison helps. Less helpful is the fact that the virus, as serious as it has been and not ignoring the horrific loss of life, relative to climate change, is easy to fix. We will beat it, a vaccine will be found, and the global community will pull together to distribute it effectively.
The virus shows its hand over weeks and months, whereas climate change does so over years and decades.
Climate change is hugely complex. Carbon is intertwined with so many aspects of our lives and let’s not forget that no highly organised and resourced groups find themselves lobbying for more virus. Depressingly the same cannot be said of carbon.
The COVID-19 worry bus has been parked outside all our houses for weeks, does the world have the capacity to for more climate change-based worry?
One massive positive that has come out of the crisis is a heightened sense of community and a love for nature and the very outside spaces that climate change threatens. I’m hopeful that we can convert this momentum into climate action.
We have shown we can make major changes to our lives for a short period of time, can we make the much smaller changes climate change asks of us forever?
Will we travel less to and from work, go on fewer holidays?
As we emerge from this, will people start to behave less automatically and start to appreciate communities and once again work together against a common enemy?
It feels to me, here in the UK, the virus has instilled a sense of togetherness and community that has begun to heal the deep scars of BREXIT and whilst that seems true of many other countries, unfortunately the same cannot be said of the US.
The one country that ought to be the beacon of hope, is drowning in sea of federal infighting and the leadership vacuum that is Trumpistan.
As we emerge from this, the governments of the world will be saddled with hitherto unseen mountains of debt. Will the stimulus needed to deal with this be pointed at green tech? Will those that govern show the necessary political leadership and allocate these resources responsibly?
Or will we be bailing out the carbon-heavy holiday and airline industries?
Global cooperation during the pandemic has been limited as everyone scrambles for masks and ventilators, but we need a universal vaccine to defeat it, so at some point there will have to be some cooperation.
What will happen to the intergenerational anger that exists amongst the likely victims of climate change? Younger generations are being asked to stay at home, miss out on school and quite possibly lose their jobs, to protect the older generation. Will we get the asset redistribution (from old to young) that we need, or will the inequalities remain?
Can these deep intergenerational fractures also be put to one side to fight the common goal of climate change?
If governments won’t deal with these issues then companies will have to, partially driven, I suspect, to satisfy the demands of their youthful work forces.
The crisis and the questions it raises bring into sharp focus heavy decisions that the lucky companies, the ones that make it out the other side of Covid-19, will have to make. Do principles, purpose, a focus on the planet now sit rather more uncomfortably next to profit and business survival? Or have they never been more important?