Can We Flatten the Climate Change Curve: Lessons from the Pandemic Playbook?

Climate Change has been looked upon as a problem for the future for too long. PC: The University of Manchester Wordpress

Climate Change was meant to be the eminent planetary deal breaker, and an entire narrative industry (Greta made a splash, but no further!) has configured around the global phenomena to arrest the slippery slope of rising temperatures towards a two-degree Celsius rise world. 

Climate Change is a macro disaster with local articulations in either cyclones, floods or droughts and bush fires. As a multi-scalar issue, working through and across different contexts, hierarchies and specificities; Climate Change is both philosophical and operational. 

It is both interdisciplinary and highly focused befitting a broad ranging survivalist concept. This complexity results in a paralysis as there no focused target to defeat. 

Climate Change has multiple manifestations and meanings in differing settings, from melting mountain caps to increasing sea levels inundating port cities that have been the cradle of commerce and civilization. 

Jakarta is moving its new capital to further uphill in Borneo while Singapore is building their new Terminal 5 a few meters higher by factoring in climate change. Both Jakarta and Singapore are highly prone to flash floods. 

Last year Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong of Singapore, set aside an ambitious 100 billion Singapore dollars in an intergenerational effort to build sea walls and upgrade other infrastructure. 

Climate Change is intensely political as a problem of stocks and flows. The global north while increasing their standard of living since the industrial revolution now expects the global south to ‘not pollute’, as their quality of life is gets affected due to climate change. 

It is akin to looting the planetary bank, and then expect the robbed banker to pay the very robber a commission for it. Climate injustice is neo-colonial in character as the global south is held hostage to the whims and fancies of their former colonial masters. The Global Politics of Climate Change needs decolonising. 

The annual climate change united nations conferences are a theatre in negotiation where, the fine print is discussed on financing mechanisms and emission cuts in numerous break out rooms. 

The global finance heavy hitters such as BlackRock and the giant pension and sovereign wealth funds have taken climate action seriously and are incorporating ESG metrics in their investment thesis for long term value retention. 

Climate action is a verb and not a noun. Sadly, it is taken as an issue; which is yet to come/happen, and the proverbial can is kicked down the road. It has been a classic case study in policy indifference and paralysis. 

There is encouraging work underway on the renewable infrastructure on the global scale, including India which is a climate leader in this realm. However, climate change adaptation requires billions of dollars to retrofit existing civil infrastructure to make it climate resilient in the form of a ‘Green Deal’ -a so-called Marshall Plan for Climate Change.

This plan has grown popular among the Democrats in the US election season this year, as it has featured as a debate topic in the televised primaries. The United States is a major polluter without which all global climate action is starved. 

Climate Change events such as floods, impact the most vulnerable of us lacking in social and economic capital, especially in densely populated areas, hence is treated as a ‘Poverty Multiplier’ by the World Health Organization. 

Transposing the macro dimensions of Climate Change with the local implications, is making climate change relevant to our communities and hence at the ballot box. 

Though farfetched at the national level, Goa has been a shade of environmental politics with its fair share of sand mining struggles. 

Uttarakhand is landside prone, and thus disaster linked to environmental issues is a mainstay of state level politics.  Climate action, in short has been ineffective and discontinuous stuck in the morass of reports and articles. A fine example of ‘Scholarship Without Solutions’ in the words of Prof. Raghuram Rajan. 

Climate Change is under way as a deleterious buffering malware in the background while we have carried on with our daily lives, in the BC era, or Before Corona. 

In the After Corona (AC) era, where ‘Flattening The Curve’ or reducing the velocity of infections is the rage, this approach towards public service delivery in order to tackle ‘wicked problems’ has undergone a sea of change. 

The global leadership that has come together to fight Covid19 can repeat this model to fight Climate Change. PC: Gulf News

It has self-authored a novel playbook out of which Climate Change can pluck a leaf, as both are a meta-crisis for humanity . 

COVID-19 is a global disease on jet plane, as Prof Saikat Majumdar of Ashoka University wrote in his Outlook Magazine article on education.

The dark humour is apt for these depressing times as COVID-19 cases have been imports of a biological kind from our diaspora friends, instead of a bottle of wine. 

There are few features which make COVID-19 a historic inflection point. There is no ‘Not In My Backyard’ option here. 

In this global pandemic, prime ministers and royalty are getting infected, making the virus a rare equalising force. The spit second transmission of infection data on our phones as if checking on a cricket match score, brings the suffering home, even without getting infected. 

It is visceral, and the egalitarian nature of the disease has brought together humanity in a real planetary leadership to combat COVID-19. 

A disease can be measured, quantified and tracked. This data can be used to frame interventions with precision and clarity on a war footing. These mapped numbers either elevate the concern for further action or provide a sense of progress. 

COVID-19 is a truly global pandemic, bringing the oft feted western biomedical model to its knees. Climate Change impact however cannot be easily measured by direct causation. 

A bush fire in California or Sydney is caused by higher than normal temperatures and drier climate but the entire blame cannot be placed on climate change as ancillary variables such as how many houses around the forest, the emergency response set up etc. have to be factored in too. Localised fires or floods do not galvanise the global consciousness. 

Climate Change actors who have lost out on screen time due to the pandemic, can ride on the momentum by learning to quantify the impacts of climate change better as a destabilising vector for the global supply chain. 

A new narrative regarding resilience through climate change action needs to be created, in this epochal moment of rupture. COVID-19 has shown the effect of political will from Modi to Lee. Climate Change is the very antithesis, a paucity of political capital. 

The pandemic has preponed the future of work via the exciting potential of remote work, which is resulting in less traffic and pollution especially in the major global capitals. 

Climate Change as a mechanism for our survival as a species, on the lines of the pandemic response is the train of thought to move ahead, in order to create systems which will stand the test for the next black swan event around the historical bend. 

Investing in scientific research for better evidence for policy action, and a robust healthcare system must be the top priority for the After-Corona era on a global level, and zero tolerance for climate sceptics as well as vaccine deniers. 

The days for incremental action are passé. Our radical present needs a new set of background code, rather than a patch. 

Manishankar Prasad

Manishankar Prasad is an environmental engineer, sociologist, researcher and writer. He has studied at the National University of Singapore and Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. He has published across numerous national and international platforms such as the New Indian Express and the Huffington Post, been a panellist on Al Jazeera International and BBC World, and has been interviewed by Forbes and The Guardian.

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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