Climate change is a slow emergency. We’ve known about the dire effects of global warming for decades but it’s mostly been a slower burn problem. The new year 2020 was going to be the year we got serious about climate. But as with all things, timing is everything.
Risk expert and author Michele Wucker describes climate change as a gray rhino – “highly obvious, highly probable, but still neglected” (The Gray Rhino : How to Recognize and Act on the Obvious Dangers We Ignore). For most people climate doesn’t demand immediate-now-today actions. The time horizon for action or response is weeks-months-years.
The coronavirus (COVID-19) is also a gray rhino but it has a much different time horizon. The need for action is immediate. Waiting a mere few weeks to react to this threat is the difference between containment as in China—reporting no new cases of COVID-19 on March 18—and Italy which was too slow to react, now reporting close to 500 deaths on the same day.
Timing is Everything
Why just two months ago at the beginning of the new year, global confidence was high. When confidence is high, “we have a “us-everywhere-forever” mindset writes Amy Harder in Axios. The world economy was stable, the stock market was chugging along and one could sense “an eagerness to take on big global challenges.” And there’s no bigger challenge than climate change.
It’s a line in the sand and what it says to our species is that this is the moment and we must act now. — Debra Roberts, co-chair of an IPCC working group.
The 2020s are a decisive decade for humanity as nations start to ramp up their climate ambition to meet their 2030 Paris Agreement emissions-reduction targets. This is the decade we must stop climate change. To avoid the worst effects of the climate crisis, the world must slash carbon emissions by at least 50% by 2030, launching a new age of decarbonisation that will get us to net-zero emissions by 2050.
In once-in-a-lifetime moments when everything does seem to be happening at once, like what’s unfolding with the cascading coronavirus crisis, time is a ruthless prioritizer. — Amy Harder
COVID-19 has changed all that. The singular global priority is containment of the coronavirus. Countries are mobilizing at a pace unseen since World War II. Our focus has instantly changed to “me-here-now” as the crisis takes over almost every aspect of our lives. Our time horizon has shifted to minutes-hours-days. Schools are closing, stocks have hit rock-bottom, sporting events are cancelled, consumers are panic-buying, people are working from home.
It’s time to batten down the hatches and wait for CODIV-19 to pass.
Climate Falls to the Bottom…For Now
With CODIV-19, climate action falls to the bottom, but only for the short term. Critical meetings are being postponed or cancelled altogether to slow the spread of the virus. Also, the billions of dollars allocated to this global crisis will mean less funding available to support future climate initiatives. The defining crisis of our times is no longer climate. It’s the coronavirus.
But we must be ready for when climate is back. How humanity deals with the coronavirus crisis will be a dry run for the looming climate crisis.
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