COVID-19 is something of a test run for worse news, which is climate change. As two McGill University professors, Eric Galbraith and Ross Otto, recently pointed out in The Conversation, total COVID-19 deaths may increase day by day but that’s not where the terror lies. The true terror is mass death.
Global heating is another universal danger where the suffering will be intensely personal. Canada is racing to flatten the COVID-19 curve just as we will eventually be cutting carbon output, as life grows increasingly arduous and unpleasant even in fortunate countries like our own.
But here’s the thing that strikes these two professors, one in earth system science and the other in psychology. Why are we so frantic about COVID-19 but not about climate change? They say there are four reasons: the instinctive, vivid, personal fear of COVID-19; the suddenness of the viral attack; the immediate, obvious strategies to fend off the virus strategies; and finally, the fact that nations are able to go it alone.
Dealing with the coronavirus is easier than dealing with climate change.
It has been fast and remarkable. The economist and historian Adam Tooze says the coronavirus has shattered the myth of “faith in the market,” that the economy has to come first. “We are deliberately inducing one of the most severe recessions ever seen. In so doing we are driving another nail into the coffin of one of the great platitudes of the late 20th century: it’s the economy stupid.”
There is a certain freedom to this, he says. “Given the experience of the past dozen years we should now never tire of asking: which economic constraints are real and which imagined?” He is clearly referring to what we might do to slow climate change.
Our lives will be different from now on. The hope is that we will live more intelligently, thinking more about our future on the planet rather than the blithe destruction we indulged in for 50 years.