PREPARE FOR TOMORROW: Here’s what the coronavirus pandemic can teach us about tackling climate change
Note to Readers:
The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a life-altering moment for every British Columbian. Because the threat to health and life demands it, minds are suddenly open to doing things differently. Thus, an emerging theme is what are the key lessons that can be applied to climate change?
This week, the Partnership for Water Sustainability features an article written by Dr. Natasha Chassagne of the University of Tasmania. Along with McGill University’s Eric Galbraith and Ross Otto, who we featured on March 31, she asserts that the coronavirus response proves the world can act on climate change.
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article. All attention is currently focussed on winning the war against COVID-19. Yet we must also keep our eyes on what is over the horizon.
“The global response to the coronavirus crisis shows that governments can take immediate, radical emergency measures, which go beyond purely economic concerns, to protect the well-being of all,” states Natasha Chassagne in making the case for a call to action.
Dr Natasha Chassagne is currently writing a book titled ‘Buen Vivir as an Alternative to Sustainable Development: Lessons from Ecuador’, to be published by Routledge later this year.
She recently completed a PhD investigating Buen Vivir as an Alternative to Sustainable Development at Swinburne University’s Centre for Social Impact. Her research looked at the viability and transferability of Latin American concept Buen Vivir (Good Living) as an alternative, community-led approach to achieving long-term sustainability and wellbeing.
Buen Vivir is a holistic, biocentric concept whereby based on the philosophy of living in harmony with nature. The research involved ethnographic fieldwork in Ecuador to develop a practical framework for Buen Vivir.
“The coronavirus crisis is devastating, but failing to tackle climate change because of the pandemic only compounds the tragedy. Instead, we must draw on the lessons of coronavirus to address the climate challenge,” says Dr. Natasha Chassagne, University of Tasmania
“Every aspect of our lives has been affected by the coronavirus. The global economy has slowed, people have retreated to their homes and thousands have died or become seriously ill,” wrote Dr. Natasha Chassagne.
“At this frightening stage of the crisis, it’s difficult to focus on anything else. But as the International Energy Agency has said, the effects of coronavirus are likely to be temporary but the other global emergency – climate change – is not.
“Stopping the spread of coronavirus is paramount, but climate action must also continue. And we can draw many lessons and opportunities from the current health crisis when tackling planetary warming.
A ‘Degrowing’ Economy
“Measures to contain COVID-19 have pushed the global economy into recession,” wrote Dr. Natasha Chassagne.
“In many ways, what we’re seeing now is a rapid and unplanned version of economic ‘degrowth’ – the transition some academics and activists have for decades said is necessary to address climate change, and leave a habitable planet for future generations.
“Degrowth is a proposed slowing of growth in sectors that damage the environment, such as fossil fuel industries, until the economy operates within Earth’s limits. It is a voluntary, planned and equitable transition in developed nations which necessarily involves an increased focus on the environment, human well-being, and capabilities (good health, decent work, education, and a safe and healthy environment).
“Such a transformation would be profound, and so far no nation has shown the will to implement it. It would require global economies to ‘decouple’ from carbon to prevent climate-related crises. But the current unintended economic slowdown opens the door to such a transition, which would bring myriad benefits to the climate.
“The idea of sustainable degrowth is very different to a recession. It involves scaling back environmentally damaging sectors of the economy, and strengthening others. New economic thinking is needed. A transition to sustainable degrowth can help.
“We need to shift global attention from GDP as an indicator of well-being, towards other measures that put people and the environment first, such as New Zealand’s well-being budget, Bhutan’s gross national happiness index, or Ecuador’s social philosophy of buen vivir (good living).”
A Tale of Two Emergencies
“Climate change has been declared a global emergency, yet to date the world has largely failed to address it. In contrast, the global policy response to the coronavirus emergency has been fast and furious.
“There are several reasons for this dramatic difference. Climate change is a relatively slow-moving crisis, whereas coronavirus visibly escalates over days, even hours, increasing our perception of the risks involved. One thing that history teaches us about politics and the human condition in times of peril, we often take a ‘crisis managemeny’ approach to dealing with serious threats.
“As others have observed, the slow increase in global temperatures means humans can psychologically adjust as the situation worsens, making the problem seem less urgent and meaning people are less willing to accept drastic policy measures.”
Key Lessons from Coronavirus
“The global response to the coronavirus crisis shows that governments can take immediate, radical emergency measures, which go beyond purely economic concerns, to protect the well-being of all.
“Specifically, there are practical lessons and opportunities we can take away from the coronavirus emergency as we seek to tackle climate change:
“The coronavirus pandemic shows the crucial importance of early action to prevent catastrophic consequences. Governments in Taiwan, South Korea and Singapore acted quickly to implement quarantine and screening measures, and have seen relatively small numbers of infections. Italy, on the other hand, whose government waited too long to act, is now the epicentre of the virus.”
Go Slow, Go Local
“Coronavirus has forced an immediate scale-down of how we travel and live. People are forging local connections, shopping locally, working from home and limiting consumption to what they need.
“Researchers have identified that fears about personal well-being represent a major barrier to political support for the degrowth movement to date. However with social distancing expected to be in place for months, our scaled-down lives may become the ‘new normal’. Many people may realise that consumption and personal well-being are not inextricably linked.
Spend on Clean Energy
“The International Energy Agency (IEA) says clean energy should be ‘at the heart of stimulus plans to counter the coronavirus crisis’.
“The IEA has called on governments to launch sustainable stimulus packages focused on clean energy technologies. It says hydrogen and carbon-capture also need major investment to bring them to scale, which could be helped by the current low interest rates.
“Governments could also use coronavirus stimulus packages to reskill workers to service the new ‘green’ economy, and address challenges in healthcare, sanitation, aged care, food security and education.”
As climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe said this month:
‘What really matters is the same for all of us. It’s the health and safety of our friends, our family, our loved ones, our communities, our cities and our country. That’s what the coronavirus threatens, and that’s exactly what climate change does, too.’
“The coronavirus crisis is devastating, but failing to tackle climate change because of the pandemic only compounds the tragedy. Instead, we must draw on the lessons of coronavirus to address the climate challenge.”
COVID-19 response provides hope for countering the Shifting Baseline Syndrome and Bending the Curve
The Shifting Baseline Syndrome is the commonality between the article above and the Waterbucket News article featuring Dr. Daniel Pauly on March 24. Natasha Chassagne is describing the Shifting Baseline Syndrome when she states that “the slow increase in global temperatures means humans can psychologically adjust as the situation worsens”.
The optimistic view is that we can Bend the Curve in the opposite direction, provided there is political will and commitment by all. The COVID-19 response demonstrates both. Simply put, when there is a will, there is a way.
The goal of shifting to an ecologically functioning and resilient baseline and creating a creekshed legacy would ultimately depend on the nature of change to standards of engineering, planning and financial practice.