The parallels between the COVID- 19 and climate change crises are as follows:
- Both crises are global problems requiring global action but also requiring changes to the individual lifestyles of billions of individuals;
- Both crises demonstrate the importance of strong leadership by governments. While individuals, or even communities, can initiate or agitate for change, only government can lead comprehensive change;
- For both crises’ government has a dual role. First, it must finance actions to combat the cause of the crises and to ensure the preservation of health and safety. Second, it must act to ensure the sustainability of the economy. Again, in both cases, this includes fostering safe and sustainable productive activity, an adequate social safety net and a just transition for those workers whose employment is lost or must change.
- When a crisis is given sufficient priority, governments can find finance to foster the required interventions. The only real limit to expenditure by governments that have the power to create their own domestic currency is the risk of inflation;
- Both crises arise out of an invisible enemy– a virus on the one hand and greenhouse gas emissions on the other. But the invisibility of an enemy does not lessen its danger;
- Both crises require preventative measures for remediation or to prevent the problem worsening- in the case of the virus, prevention is constituted by hygiene measures and ultimately a vaccine. In the case of climate change, it consists of actions to eliminate the production of new fossil fuels and, as far as possible, to scrub existing carbon dioxide from the environment. Possibly also to introduce other controversial cooling measures such as solar radiation management. Both crises are therefore subject to the ‘prevention paradox’ which is that successful prevention suffers from the problem of invisibility because a crisis is averted;
- Both crises have tipping points. The COVID-19 tipping point relates to a nation’s public health system being overwhelmed. When this occurs, there is a dramatic and largely unavoidable escalation in the mortality rates from the disease. A tipping point in the climate system is a threshold that, when exceeded, can lead to large changes in the state of the system that are both irreversible and devastating in their impact.
- Both crises demonstrate complacency– a failure to recognize that the relative prosperity or affluence that has prevailed in developed countries, basically since the end of WWII, is not guaranteed to last forever. Indeed, it may well be unsustainable. It was only ever really a blip in the history of humanity. A history that has so often been characterized by war, famine, disease, natural disaster, and other human-made and natural calamities. We should never take peace and prosperity for granted or regard them as some kind of entitlement.
There are at least four very important differences between the COVID-19 crisis and the climate change crisis:
- The first relates to time-although the effects of climate change are already with us, COVID-19 is a far faster-moving crisis.
- The second relates to reversibility– the COVID-19 crisis is likely to pass. The effects of climate change are not so easily reversible.
- The third relates to gravity– it might not seem like it now. But in due course, if we do not limit climate change, COVID-19 will look like a relative walk in the park.
- The fourth relates to deniability. It is far harder to deny the existence or seriousness of COVID-19. Initial denials of seriousness by Donald Trump soon fell apart. Only Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is holding out against the scientific consensus. There is still a widespread denial of the scientific consensus about the human causes and/or seriousness of climate change which has been fostered by disinformation campaigns run by vested interests.