MAG: What would happen if the world reacted to climate change like it’s reacting to the coronavirus?
BY ADELE PETERS
The scale of the response raises another question: What would it look like if the world responded to the climate crisis with a similar sense of urgency? The coronavirus response might not have been as fast as it should have been; if the Chinese government had acted faster, the virus might not have spread to other countries. And the Chinese government’s authoritarian tactics shouldn’t—and couldn’t—be emulated in large parts of the rest of the world. But in countries around the world, governments and citizens have been quick to change daily habits. The same hasn’t happened for the climate crisis.
“We’ve seen that governments can act, and people can change their behavior, in a very short amount of time,” says May Boeve, executive director of the climate advocacy group 350.org. “And that’s exactly what the climate movement has been asking governments and people to do for years in the face of a different kind of threat—the climate crisis—and we don’t see commensurate action. On the one hand, it shows that it’s possible to do this, and it’s possible for this kind of mobilization of resources to take place in a short amount of time. In that sense, that’s encouraging. But we were never in doubt of that aspect.” Instead, she says, it was a question of whether there was political will for rapid change.
If the world was responding to climate change like it’s responding to the coronavirus—the level of urgency that the science says is necessary—things would look dramatically different. “We would see a lot of different things happening all at the same time,” says Boeve.
Governments would come up with the funds to build the infrastructure needed to fully roll out renewable energy. “It’s cheap enough and available, but the regulatory systems that would enable people everywhere to get clean energy would require massive government investment,” she says. “We would see these kinds of emergency packages that would get people off of the fossil fuel grid and onto a clean grid right away.”
After wildfires and extreme floods, relief packages would acknowledge the role of climate. In cities, development rules would change to require low-carbon construction. Farms would shift to regenerative agriculture. Just as the airline industry is struggling because of the coronavirus, some industries would see real impacts. “We probably wouldn’t still have an oil and coal and gas industry that was thriving in our economy,” says Boeve. We would have to find ways to support the workers from those industries, as well.