Lessons from Covid-19 for the climate crisis

For many, Covid-19 is the biggest crisis they have ever experienced. A lot has changed within the last few months.
What lesson can we learn from all these changes to prevent the biggest crisis humanity has ever faced – the climate crisis?

Firstly, it is important to point out the differences. Covid-19 massively impacted the life of half of earth´s population in the form of lockdowns. The climate crisis has developed over decades. And while it is already killing millions of people each year, most people around the world do not feel its impact everyday. It is also the poor without a voice that are mostly impacted. Covid-19 affects everyone from rich to poor and north to south and the culprit is easy to identify. Collapsing ecosystems, storms, floods, droughts, wildfires, air pollution etc. are – so far – geographically confined and often hit poor communities that do not determine the international conversation. Their causes are also manifold, even though overexploitation and climate change are the common denominator.

Please also read: A Matter Of Perspective

Change is hard

Another difference is the end goal. The goal of fighting Covid-19 is back to normal. Back to a life without a pandemic, to the world that people know – with free movement, vacations and consumption. If the want to stop the climate crisis, there can be no back to normal. Even if there are hopes that we can continue our lifestyle with the support of new green technology, it becomes ever clearer that this is a dream. Consumption requires resources, no matter how green something is produced. And resources are limited on this planet, while the human population keeps growing.

And a lesson from the past is that green technology does not stop our hunger for resources. More energy- and resource-efficient screens and computers did not lead to less energy and resource consumption, but to bigger screens and more powerful computers, which overcompensated any savings. So, the end goal of fighting the climate crisis must be that we change our lifestyle, which will take away some freedom from individuals.

We have to accept ambiguity

The reaction to state imposed restrictions is also interesting. All in all, it is probably surprising how well citizens followed the rules, even though they cut into their human rights and personal freedom. But the reactions to the so called ‘exit strategies’ paint a different picture. The instructions when entering the shut downs were clear: stay at home and avoid social contacts. We basically hit the pause button. We took the most drastic steps to buy time to figure out how to live relatively normal until we find a cure.

Now that this pause slowly comes to an end and experts voice more nuanced – and sometimes contradicting – opinions, people seem to accept measures harder. And in the climate crisis, there are no clear instructions. There is also no cure on the horizon that will solve the problem once and forever. We can only offer a variety of approaches that all have their pros and cons.

There is no scapegoat for the climate crisis

An aspect that should not be underestimated is the moral dimension. At the moment, it is us against the virus. It is humanity against the enemy, good versus evil – the kind of story the masses love. The climate crisis is more complicated. It divides society into sinners and activists. It even divides one internally. Some of the most eager climate activists jet from conference to conference leaving a massive ecological footprint. It forces people to question their behavior and accept that there is no easy fix.

Reasons for hope

Even though there are many factors that make the fight of the climate crisis more complex than fighting Covid-19, there are definitely some positive lesson we can take away.

  • Governments can act quickly in times of crisis
  • Many people are solidary during hardships
  • Governments and people are willing to put health before the economy
  • If the pressure is high enough, authorities are willing to make funds available at a large scale
  • People accept quick & strict measures, if they understand the objective and approach
  • Governments can step up and lead in times of crisis

Unite for a brighter future

These are mostly the same lessons campaigners and activists have emphasized for a long time. We must unite society. Good guy environmentalist against bad guy SUV driver, babyboomer, frequent flyer or meat eater creates societal trenches that hinder common action. It must be everyone against a future without constant natural disasters, food shortages and drowning cities. And we must convey urgency. The climate crisis is not an event of the future. It is happening right now and millions are already suffering from it.

Lastly, we have to emphasize the positive aspects. Instead of telling people what the cannot do anymore, we have to paint a picture of a brighter future. A future with intact nature, clean air and cities designed for people, not cars. A future, in which we do not constantly have to think about which species will disappear next, which country will suffer from a famine and which city will drown in a rising ocean.

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One thought on “Lessons from Covid-19 for the climate crisis

  • Excellent reminder on what’s threatening peaceful life, equality and justice around the world – there is no doubt that the SDGs 12 & 13,14,15 require a change of our life styles especially in the rich countries – the Covid-19 pandemic “forces” us to focus our vacation and holiday making to the closer destinations for recreation, nature and culture experience at home, in the own and in neighbour countries. “IF travelling – THEN sustainably” can start with a look onto Tourism2030.eu site with its “Green Travel Maps”. As soon as the borders will be open again, as soon as travellers will plan their next holiday again we will see what “the new normal” will mean: closer? slower? fairer? more conscious? more benefits for locals? more engagement for more quality of life in the “car cities”? more solidarity? more fulfilling daily life? Since 50 years such ideas have been raised again and again – perhaps finally now Covid-19 helps to rethink our life styles …

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