Ten things we can learn from the corona crisis

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We are currently experiencing very hard times. In the matter of no time, corona (COVID-19) has overwhelmed the world and drastically impacted the lives of billions of us. Whilst we tackle the disease, let’s use this opportunity to see what we, the greater society, can learn from this struggle. What lessons can we take from this that will help us in the fight against other impending crises that loom, in particular the fight against the climate crisis?

Here are ten points from the perspective of a climate activist.

1. In the last weeks, we have learnt a lot about the importance of flattening the curve. If a crisis is coming, we should do all we can to slow down its development and to avoid peaks. That way our infrastructure, such as the medical infrastructure, has the chance to react as efficiently as possible. It also gives society the time to learn, to prepare and to fight back. The same is true for climate change. If we continue to emit greenhouse gases as we are emitting now, climate change threatens to be catastrophic and will lead to abrupt, disruptive changes. We are too late to avoid climate change as such, but if we cut our emissions immediately, rapidly and drastically, climate change and its consequences will remain under control and we will have more time to react and adapt. A drastic reduction of greenhouse gases is for the climate problem what staying at home is for the corona crisis. We won’t regret doing it – yet regret that we didn’t do it sooner.

2. Up until only a few days before the corona crisis visibly erupted, far too many politicians and media outlets were seriously and systematically underestimating the challenges that lay ahead. Many seemed to rely more on their own experiences and feelings, rather than on scientific reports and findings. Only once the problem was right in front of them on their own doorstep, was there a change in tone and science given a more prominent place in the debates.

3. For decades, we have been told that societal changes need time, lots of time. That we cannot achieve mass behavioural change overnight. This has now been proven wrong. We have seen that if people understand the imminent danger of a crisis, the majority of the population are willing to change their habits quickly and drastically, and that the rest follow.

4. The economy is important. But if we have to choose between avoiding the premature death of 1-3% of our fellow compatriots and the economy, we fortunately choose the first.

5. As pointed out in a Guardian article about the coronavirus: “Just as there are no atheists on a sinking ship, there are no free-marketeers in a pandemic.” If a crisis looms, we need to think and act. This is true for the climate crisis too. We shouldn’t just count on market forces to end the age of the fossil fuels and to invest massively in renewable energy. We need leaders who dare to make choices and tackle the problem at its roots.

6. Although humans are inventive and creative, and although scientists regularly realise new breakthroughs, we cannot just count on new inventions and technologies to solve problems. They often come too late for many.

7. It seems that the corona crisis is most likely to have originated from the capture and trade of wild animals. If we exploit nature without any respect or understanding of the full consequences of our actions, sooner or later we will pay a heavy price for doing so.

8. Global problems need international cooperation and solidarity. The rise of nationalism and populism isn’t helpful in fighting world problems.

9. This crisis, as most crises, hits the poorest and most vulnerable groups the hardest: Those who haven’t got a big house to hide in, or who have no house at all. Those who don’t have a savings account to survive long periods with an unstable income. Those who are the victim of domestic violence. Those who don’t have a laptop to do school work at home… As a result, many of the proposed (and needed) solutions don’t work for all and by imposing such solutions, we are intensifying other problems or creating new ones. Inequality burdens our society’s capacity to adequately respond to crises. To get ready for the climate crisis, we need stronger and fairer societies.

10. Crises show the worst, and the best, side of humans. Where there is greed and egoism, there is also solidarity and cooperation. What we need are well-functioning societies and states, able to prevent panic buying, looting and chaos. At the same time, we should share, highlight and celebrate the many good things that happen. People helping each other, people enjoying new ways of life. Nice things happen all the time and it’s precisely these that give us the hope and strength we need to keep on fighting.

Steven Vanholme – 22 March 2020

(Picture: Alexandra Koch, Pixabay)