The Hot Topic: What happens to the world after coronavirus - if there is one?
Both the pandemic we find ourselves in, and the climate crisis, provide a good measure of the priorities, political will to resolve problems, and the efficiency of governments across the world. Both coronavirus and climate change tell us about the capabilities of not only the people we elected to power but our own contributions to a greater risk posed towards humanity.
Why are there so many discussions about coronavirus in relation to climate change? One is an imminent threat and a public health disaster, the other is a human-made problem that’s been threatening us for decades now. Both, however, provide a good measure of the priorities, political will to resolve problems, and the efficiency of governments across the world. Both coronavirus and climate change tell us about the capabilities of not only the people we elected to power but our own contributions to a greater risk posed towards humanity. There is only one thing that people can think about and worry about at the moment, the coronavirus - because little else matters right now. The UN has shifted its focus from climate change to coronavirus. And nothing else should matter right now.
What about when the virus ends though? And here I am assuming that the virus will end, or subside to levels that will return life to some previous levels of normalcy. Assuming there is an after, I tried to imagine two kinds of scenarios: best case and worst case. The best-case scenario imagines that we treat the threat of climate change at the same level as coronavirus, and attempt to mitigate it. The worst-case scenario imagines that we don’t do this, and go back to our old ways of thinking about climate change.
Best case scenario
We understand that it is foolish to let a tragedy of this sort occur, and we can identify completely where inaction led to exacerbation. But we also learn that it would be completely criminal to let it happen again. By again, I mean we consider the threat of climate change as strongly as we did for coronavirus.
So things have gone back to normal but people have learnt big lessons. Companies implement work from home as much as it is possible, providing incentives for employees who use public transport. More meetings are held via teleconferencing, and private holdings realise they need to contribute their share in the battle against climate change. A profits-first approach is abandoned, and there is more focus on creating better living conditions for all, rather than maximizing gains.
People are travelling less, and when they are travelling, they use sustainable measures. Hopefully, this doesn’t increase racial stereotyping - in fact, people are more welcoming and heartened by the collective world action taken in time of coronavirus, to help each other out. More people turn to a vegetarian diet, and while this could be in part due to a fear of contracting more bacteria and virus, it is hopefully due to people’s wish to remain healthier. The fragility of the environment, and the world at large, has been realised; if a small virus at one end of the world can wreak such havoc on the world, a series of environmental problems could do much worse. Governments too have successfully understood what needs to be prioritised and launch better universal healthcare, invest in public transport and renewable sources of energy, and research and development of science that can warn us well in advance of such situations.
Climate change gets the precedence it deserves, once we have realised how tough a catastrophe of this scale is to fight.
Worst case scenario
Hundreds of thousands have died, economies devastated, and joblessness is at an all-time high. Leaders give the highest priority to boosting the economy, and announce huge stimulus packages to get the economy back in shape - but at the cost of the environment. Mostly, with the way things work, economic development comes at the cost of the environment.
Following the wars, the Great Depression, and the financial crisis of 2008, the reboot in the economy was led by pumping money towards reviving industries. So production goes out in full force, and we are taught to spend more and more on things we don’t need, to go out more, travel incessantly - effectively making us slaves of capitalism again.
Climate change takes a backseat- there are far more things to worry about than melting glaciers. Invisible threats like global warming will be even less important for leaders who will face the high pressure of competing in a global market again. Since the fuel prices will be low, renewable sources of energy will also get less importance, since a more polluting but easier alternative will be so cheap and readily available. It will be months, if not years before the conversation can revolve around the climate again.
We are back to where we were before coronavirus entered our lives, but somehow the situation is more intense, as more profits are at stake.
The choice is ours. The way I see it, there are some things we should be able to take away from coronavirus, and these lessons should dominate our climate change narrative for the next decade. After the coronavirus, climate change should be given the highest priority, and policies and laws should be made according to that. As in the case of the virus, every individual’s staying at home cuts the chain of transmission and potentially saves other people - in the same way, every individual’s effort to fight the climate crisis will altogether add up to something that will result in overturning the crisis. The past few weeks have shown us that if the political will is present, supported by the cooperation of the people, it is possible to defeat a crisis of even a pandemic level. Climate change gave us years and years, showing up only in glimpses, but now that it’s staring us in our face, we must take these learnings and apply it to avert a calamity of this level again.
I was wondering if this time of coronavirus will be something that we will be telling our kids about. I fear that they will have seen much worse.