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Wednesday, 27 September 2023
Covid & Climate Change
James Denseiow

If climate change is an invisible threat that threatens the lives and livelihoods of humanity, then is Covid-19 a similar type of threat in redux? Despite us being in the middle, rather than towards the end, of the tunnel of the Coronavirus threat with infections and deaths continuing to soar we are already beginning to see the shape of what the world could look like after the virus is brought under control.

The first trend to explore is whether humanity can and will transition from seeing threats in more conventional terms to adopting a more global holistic perspective. One commentator recently described the US Republican Party as being good at articulating threats from people and countries – say terrorism and Iran – rather than from natural threats – say climate change linked wildfires, flood, hurricanes and of course now the Covid pandemic that President Trump has frequently said would just ‘go away’.

There is a very real logic behind this. As human beings we find it easier to empathise and imagine what other human beings could do to us. It is literally in our DNA that all humans on the planet today are here because their ancestors survived in more dangerous times. Add to that a near constant media diet of new stories as to the threat of terrorism and the rise of media savvy barbarism in the form of ISIS and it is no surprise that terrorism has traditionally topped polls of what Americans are afraid of.

Could Covid change that? The US is almost at a quarter of a million dead from the disease and just as the country has been shaped by the wars it has fought will it emerge with a new consciousness and determination to address the threats of nature that are on its doorstep?

These threats have been best articulated by the scientific community who have been (with the possible exception of Al Gore) the most consistent advocates of the need for the world to adopt policy changes to change the direction of global warming and manmade climate change.

The year of Covid has spawned the phrase ‘led by the science’ and has seen most global leaders announce their policies towards controlling the virus whilst flanked by doctors and scientists. The biggest political spates in much of the world have been when politicians have been seen to diverge from scientific advice; whether by opening up restrictions too quickly or by not mandating the wearing of masks.

Will this supercharged influencing power of the scientific and medical community sustain beyond the Covid era to play a far more critical role in elections and global decision making going forward? This could be especially true if there is more evidence sourcing the origin of the virus to animal to human transmission in Myanmar and the likelihood of further such species transmissions in a more populated planet.

In addition, Covid has introduced us to the concept of banked deaths. In that the current death rate of any given day is not a true reflection of where the virus is. Indeed, the average 24-day time lag between infection and death means that policy decisions made now are only influencing the direction of the virus several weeks into the future. The same concept is very much at the heart of climate change where we are dealing with warming now caused and traced back to the industrial revolution as well as more recent activity. Grappling with the time period between cause and effect is a lesson being learnt in lives through Covid but could also help us inspire actions that won’t bear fruit in protecting our climate for decades to come.

Finally, the concept of ‘herd immunity’ has perhaps reminded us of our species consciousness and that we are not safe until we’re all safe. This could and should be a wakeup call for global action. Rather than vaccine nationalism and multilateral disfunction and decline, surely the virus has taught us that we need organisations like the WHO running that better than ever before. That the World Food Programme was awarded this year's Nobel Peace Prize is just another reminder of the importance of joint endeavour that is required of us.

James Danselow

by : jamse danselow