Three billion people are under some form of restriction, we see all around the world grounded flights, emptied buses, and trains, private cars left on driveways. The world is slowing down. The drop in greenhouse gas emissions, as well as air and water pollution, is already making news headlines. The sustainability of these changes should be carefully looked at. But what this pandemic shows us for sure: if governments want; they can act pretty fast. If governments want; they can make lose pretty much money. If governments want; they can put a lot of resources into research. If governments want; the whole world can work together. What would happen if governments act the same way against climate change?
Every deep crisis leaves behind a story, a narrative that points far into the future. One of the strongest visions left behind by the Coronavirus are Italians playing music on the balconies. The second vision is sent to us by satellite images that suddenly show the industrial areas of China and Italy free of smog. In 2020, the CO2 emissions of mankind will fall for the first time.
The Corona pandemic does not only have impacts on climate change – there are also a lot of similarities and connections between these crises. Climate change, as well as the COVID-19, require a global-to-local response, long term thinking, the need to be guided by scientists and the need to protect the most vulnerable among us. And all of this requires political will ready to do fundamental changes. Climate experts and politicians continue to present the health and climate agendas as if they were not part of the same thing. But why do we combat the climate crisis in the first place? Isn’t it to safeguard our lives on a healthy planet?
It is normal that human beings react more to a fast crisis affecting everyone in the world fast than to a crisis which is long term and in slow motion, no matter how severe. But what about the millions of deaths every year because of air pollution? Could it be that the virus has changed our lives in a way that it wanted to change anyway?
We may be surprised that Trump will be voted out of office in November. Or that European right-wing parties, such as the German AfD, will be showing serious fraying phenomena. Because a vicious, divisive policy does not fit into a Corona world. In the Corona crisis, it became clear that those who want to set people against each other have nothing to contribute to real questions about the future. When things get serious, the destructive element that lives in populism becomes clear.
If the virus can do such changes – can we possibly do that? Maybe the virus was just a message from the future. Its drastic message is that human civilization has become too polarized, too egoistic, too thick, too fast, too overheated. It’s racing too fast in a direction where there is no future.
The Coronavirus pandemic may lead to a deeper understanding of the ties that bind us together on a global scale. It may also lead to an understanding that austerity measures that have strained many national health systems will have to be reversed if economies and societies are to be resilient and prosperous in an age of change. This pandemic offers us a painful but important opportunity to re-design our social and economic systems. This pandemic has demonstrated the fragility of our economic systems; perhaps this can be transformed into a call for a more sustainable way of living.
This crisis is slowly tipping the balance. It is questioning our business-as-usual economic model of the past decades which led to growing inequality and devastating impacts because of climate change. We all should know that the support to resuscitate the economy after the pandemic should promote health, equity and environmental protection. We have to rethink our next steps.
The maybe greatest irony between climate change and the virus is, that during the pandemic, young people aren’t directly affected or in danger. But they have to show solidarity for the older generation in order to save them. And it’s the other way around concerning climate change: the old generation doesn’t feel a lot of direct effects. But they have to show solidarity with the young generation and adapt their behavior in order to save us.
A crisis like this offers an opportunity for a reclaimed sense of shared humanity, in which people realize what matters most: the health and safety of their loved ones, and by extension the health and safety of their community, country and fellow global citizens. So, let’s act strong, fast, radical and in solidarity – not only in this actual pandemic but for the real problem of our future: climate change.
Text: Noemi Grütter
Art Illustration: Rachel Younesi
In exclusive for: The Flow House