With time running out will the Covid pandemic block meaningful action to thwart global climate breakdown?
The 'Rona has plenty of governments going into hock to fund massively costly "relief" programmes that are primarily focused on preventing economic collapse, itself a worthwhile and necessary goal. We won't know just how well government responses worked until the pandemic is over and we all try to return to whatever form of "normal" emerges. (Hint: it won't be the pre-pandemic "normal")
Did government spend enough? Did they spend enough where it mattered? Did they leave enough reserve to handle the even more challenging "second wave"? What are they planning for the aftermath?
For me there's a more worrisome issue. Are we going to emerge from this so skint that we'll be incapable of battling climate breakdown, the real engine of dystopia?
This passage from a CBC article is troubling:
Many economists would caution against worrying too much about the federal deficit right now, but Canadians might be conditioned to worry about government spending. A survey released this week by Canada 2020, a progressive think-tank in Ottawa, found that 74 per cent of respondents at least somewhat agreed with the statement that "after this pandemic is over, we will need leaders to be uncompromising to get Canada's finances in order." (The survey was conducted by Data Sciences, an analytics company founded by Tom Pitfield, a close friend and adviser to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Gerald Butts, a former adviser to Trudeau, assisted in the design and analysis of the poll.)
Here's the problem. While all eyes have been focused on Covid-19 and not contracting it - social distancing, handwashing, isolation - climate breakdown has been worsening largely ignored. Preparing for the hammering we'll get from the worsening climate is no longer our priority. Government doesn't have hundreds of billions to spend on building a nation capable of functioning when climate catastrophes hit us.
A telling article in The Guardian last week drove home the point that we're not ready for climate emergencies, not even close.
“All of the systems that society depends on were designed to function in the climate of the past,” said Amy Snover, a climate scientist at the University of Washington who recently sealed herself inside her Seattle home for 11 days because the wildfire smoke outside was too toxic to breathe.
Snover added: “But we no longer live in the climate of the past. The climate disruption brought by warming, changes in precipitation, changes in storms and changes in sea level is destabilizing the foundation of all these systems at once.”
Rather than a new but stable normal, the disasters of 2020 are merely a rung on a climatic ladder that hasn’t been fully climbed yet. “Don’t think of it as the warmest month of August in California in the last century,” said Cristi Proistosescu, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Illinois. “Think of it as one of the coolest months of August in California in the next century.”
The dawdling response to the climate crisis means cascading changes are now baked into the system. The wildfire smoke that has blanketed the west is set to become a norm that may require mask-wearing outdoors long after the Covid-19 pandemic while, as researchers reported last week, 2.5 metres of global sea level rise from the melting of the Antarctic is now virtually guaranteed even if emissions are rapidly cut.
“What we see today is nothing by comparison to what is coming our way,” said (U. Hawaii's Camilo) Mora. “Basically, take what we see today and multiply it by two or three. I wish I could be more positive, but the evidence is overwhelming that nothing good can come from us producing more CO2.”
We can ignore climate breakdown but we can't escape it. We can focus on other priorities for now. We can get away with it for a while but not forever. The butcher's bill is unpaid and it's growing. All of the systems that your day to day life depends on were designed to meet the demands of a climate that is now past. Roads, bridges and overpasses, your electrical grid, sewers and water mains, aren't up to the challenging conditions setting in. Some will be disrupted - road beds, rail beds, bridges and overpasses. Others will continue to work but not reliably nor at their former capacity.
Can we still look to government to respond to this emergency (assuming we ever could)? Will Covid reveal that protecting the nation and our people from climate breakdown has always been and remains just an illusion?