Maybe it’s because I used to be a partner in a fish processing company called Silver Lining Seafoods or maybe it’s just my nature to look for silver linings amidst the chaos. Since climate change has been my focus for the past 14 years, I couldn’t help but wonder what are we, as a society, learning about addressing the coronavirus that could apply to the climate crisis?
Here’s the first silver lining: More people now see that science and experts play a vital role in their lives. Without the science of modeling, we could not even attempt to flatten the curve of new coronavirus cases. Furthermore, the public has been reminded about the concept of exponential curves. All this is the same for the climate crisis; the science is real; it’s not a hoax and the exponential curve is equally steep and frightening.
Through this coronavirus event we’ve also learned it’s best to promptly heed the advice of science. This too is the same for climate as there is another curve in desperate need of flattening. Earth now has over 400 parts per million of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, according to ourworldindata.org. Climate scientists tell us that we need to peak out and get the emissions down to 350 parts per million. If we’ve learned nothing else from this pandemic, let it be to embrace the modeling behind “flattening the curve” and apply it to the climate crisis.
However, there is a big however in the difference in the economic fallout between the pandemic and climate change. Unlike the coronavirus, acting on climate change does not wreak havoc on the country’s economy. Instead it’s the opposite. Responding to the climate challenge would only add jobs and savings. Up until the coronavirus setback, the clean energy economy was churning along with battery storage technology and electric vehicles set for big gains. Because investing in sustainable communities, renewable energy and energy efficiency is labor intensive, millions of jobs are created not lost. The negative side of climate change comes from inaction. According to NOAA, in 2019, 14 weather and climate disaster events in the U.S. had losses exceeding $1 billion. The 1980–2019 annual average was 6.5 such events. We are more than doubling the number of catastrophic events.
Another positive is that through the contrast of timely and organized responses from states and cities to the “happy talk” and mismanagement from the Trump Administration, more people can now see the difference between poor, unorganized government and good, functional
government. Just like the pursuit of science, it’s time to restore the institution of government to its rightful place … back on the pedestal of civic protection and prosperity. Doing so, will only help with the climate crisis.
A third silver lining is that Americans have within a relatively short time period altered their behavior in significant ways. Although the changes are dramatically different and come with side-benefits (think riding a bike instead of driving), addressing climate change also requires behavioral changes. It’s good to see that in a time of crisis we can make big changes on short notice. It’s a good skill set to have going forward.
We even made a seismic-level, political shift when Congress passed, with a majority in both parties, a $2 trillion, emergency relief bill. The climate crisis requires this same level of bipartisan action.
Although, climate change is not pressing down like the current death and disruption many cities feel, but it will … over time. In October of 2018, the United Nations and the world’s climate scientists warned that we only have twelve years (now eleven) for global warming to be kept to a maximum of 1.5C, beyond which even half a degree will significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people. Sure, eleven years feels drawn out by comparison to the fierce urgency of the pandemic. Nonetheless, America is where New York City was on the exponential curve.
In honor of this 50th Anniversary of Earth Day, I share these silver linings and urge you to help flatten the climate curve next. To find out what you can do personally just Google up “personal steps to reduce carbon footprint.”
• Kate Troll has over 22 years’ experience in coastal management, fisheries and energy policy and is a former executive director for United Fishermen of Alaska and the Alaska Conservation Voters. She’s been elected to local office twice, and written two books.