Can CoronaVirus Crisis be converted to an Opportunity for Rejuvenating Climate Action?

The coronavirus slow-down has offered us that rare opportunity to pause and introspect. PC: Micheile Hernderson Unsplash.com

Just as an emerging acceptance was building to mark 2020 as an important year for redoubling climate change mitigation efforts, the Coronavirus crisis has forced humanity to choose between livelihood standards and the very survival of life itself. 

It has led to an unprecedented slowdown of modern commercial and industrial activities; we are witnessing how quickly nature can restore itself if humans stop over- exploiting it. Within weeks air, quality is visibly good and river water has become clear and transparent. However, this is temporary respite, soon to be overtaken by robust and rapid economic recovery.

One fears that damage to natural ecosystem would again get scant attention in the process. Yet can this crisis offer a unique opportunity to redesign the economy, to break away from the old normal of insatiable consumption and un-sustainable GDP growth incurred at the cost of a basic, life-supporting, stable environment?

People have found many ways to make the most of the forced leisure time and are discovering the many benefits of a slower lifestyle. Modern technology has created options to do things differently with minor economic adjustments.

In this new knowledge-based world, many gainful activities are progressing unhindered with new opportunities for strengthening international cooperation. However, unfortunately, some nations are going in a ‘me first’ syndrome, unmindful of another major global crisis, looming large. 

Climate change due to global warming is an existential invisible threat growing silently, demanding urgent coordinated global action. In comparison to the microscopic virus that has caused panic and to which a vaccine can provide a scientific solution, there can be no quick-fix vaccine for a planetary-scale climate catastrophe. 

Human brains are wired to react to immediate known threats. The ‘Corona-Slow-Down’ has demonstrated that human life-style adjustments and swift govt. actions are indeed possible, even with an economic cost. Modern scientific research and analysis have already shown that the cost of inaction on climate change exceeds the cost of timely action. Clear alerts are already issued by the apex UN body, the IPCC. 

Youth groups world over are getting anxious and protesting. Multitude of international meetings and dialogues are debating on how best to avert the impending catastrophe. And yet, political leadership and govt. apparatus seem unable to overcome the addiction of petro-dollar-linked consumer economic model which is clearly not viable anymore.

Human comfort zones are defined by societal norms, profitable business practices and govt. priorities that do not require major changes, except when shaken out of the dream-like status quo. However, the future will be full of unpredictable disruptions such as more vector-borne pandemics, weather extremes, water and food shortages, rising sea-levels and possible simultaneous AI-led technological disruptions.

This future will require a different economic model that is more resilient to disruptions and less in conflict with Mother Earth. The urgent economic recovery must be sustainable in every sense of the word to ensure a decent future for the next generations. 

The coronavirus slow-down has offered us that rare opportunity to pause and introspect how our modern economic model has become our own enemy, ruining our own stable environment, endangering our sense of well-being and destroying the future of our own children.

In the modern interconnected world with the rise of another viral force called ‘social media’, everyone is an instant expert on everything that makes breaking news. Almost everyone has understood the concept of ‘flattening the virus growth curve’ for returning to normalcy, but not many are worrying about ’flattening the carbon curve’ which is equally urgent to reduce or avert untold misery on a global scale within a decade which could perhaps even leading to the next world war due to the exodus of climate refugees. 

Climate change is neither an environmental problem, nor about economic performance or GDP losses. It is essentially a human problem that must be solved by humankind. It is all about humans learning to coexist with nature. 

What is required is a conscious shift to a new ‘Low Carbon’ economic development model, so that caring for earth resources becomes a value addition to human progress and wellbeing. 

Technological solutions are very much established, and they are economically competitive. Targets are clear – humanity must achieve deep carbon emission cuts of over 7.5 % per year for next 20-30 years. Building a new ‘Low-Carbon’ economy that is more resilient to uncertainties in future is the real priority, but mindsets must change, and real priorities must be recognized.

Surely nobody wants another crisis situation just to keep chasing same old GDP? If accelerating global warming is indeed the clear and present danger, shouldn’t that be the absolute priority focus of the economic recovery? Are we going to wait till it is too late and then have politicians blame everyone except themselves? Should humanity again get involved in a ‘me first’ war over water, food, shelter and survival issues? 

Economic recovery is indeed of high urgency today and governments are suddenly ready to provide enormous amounts of money to restart the economic engine. However, can we pause to raise a critical question – are people just the pawns of economic engine or should economics be a tool ensuring sustainable human wellbeing? 

The Covid-19 crisis is a wakeup call to humanity to use this experience as an opportunity to rejuvenate climate action and avert the next global crisis.  If we can combat a global pandemic by staying united, we must also unite in our struggle against impending climate change impacts as well. 

Can the 50th anniversary year of Earth Day, which took place last week, start reversing the ‘Annual Ecological Overshoot Day’ back towards December from the present 29 July?  Can the global community, through “Economic Re-boot 2020”, win back a stable Earth and environment that has been the very basis for human evolution and progress? 

Prof. Amitav Mallik

Prof. Amitav Mallik is Former Member of the National Security Advisory Board, and Hon. Trustee & Founder Member of Pune International Centre.

The views and opinions expressed in the article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Tilak Chronicle and TTC Media Pvt Ltd.

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