“A crisis is a terrible thing to waste,” said U.S. economist Paul Romer way back in 2004, the point being that crises create opportunities for solving problems. While moving aggressively to control the spread of a deadly virus seems like a worthy objective of public policy, for some manipulators of public opinion the COVID-19 crisis has become too terrible to waste on merely controlling an infectious disease.
Even before the World Health Organization’s pandemic declaration, the world’s climate activists had already decided to capitalize on the emerging global policy panic. What an opportunity! Air travel curtailed, world trade slowed, fossil fuel use in decline, growth falling, people staying home and not using their carbon emitting vehicles — a textbook demonstration of the benefits of carbon control policy. Leading the high-level march of triumph was Christiana Figueres, former executive secretary of the United Nation Framework Convention on Climate Change and one of the architects of the 2015 Paris Agreement that Canada has committed to. In a recent interview on British television, Figueres warned that COVID-19 will not be the last disease eruption if the world continues to “deny, delude and delay on climate change.”
Then Figueres was asked by the interviewer: “Is there any sense that this could be self-controlling, that as we see economic growth possibly slowing down around the world because of the coronavirus, that’s actually good for the climate?”
Figueres: “Well, that is ironically of course the other side of it. It may be good for the climate, because there is less trade, there’s less travel, there’s less commerce … if we really sustain several months of reduced travel, we may realize that we don’t have to travel.” The former UN executive is co-author of a new book, The Future We Choose: Surviving the Climate Crisis, which describes a feel-good neo-communist future in 2050 where much more than travel has disappeared in a new “communal effort” to produce goods. “Instead of going to a big grocery store for food flown in from hundreds, if not thousands, of miles away, you buy most of your food from small local farmers and producers.” Food therefore becomes more expensive, but because food is now “something to be prized” it has “turned out to be a better recipe for happiness.”
Figueres is not a lone voice attempting to turn the COVID-19 pandemic, and its associated economic fallout, into an opportunity.
At the Globe and Sail, the Toronto-based newspaper and cruise ship promoter, an oped last week by veteran green fear-monger Thomas Homer-Dixon announced that “Coronavirus will change the world. It might be a better future.”
Homer-Dixon is an environmental professor at the University of Waterloo and head of the Cascade Institute at Royal Roads University in Victoria, a new academic venture dedicated to shifting “global civilization away from a path that leads to calamity” and toward sustainable development. In his op-ed on the pandemic calamity, the professor observed the empty shelves at a big box grocery store near Victoria and immediately began to marvel at the “surprising silver linings around the coronavirus clouds.”
There may be a few million dead along with massive disruption to the global economic system in which “shocks propagate like a row of dominoes falling over.” But think of the benefits! We can all now realize that this global virus crisis is revealing the “critical vulnerabilities in humanity’s planet spanning economic, social and technological systems.” Think of all the global interconnectivity that, thanks to COVID-19, is now revealed to be at a tipping point: “air traffic, financial, energy, manufacturing, food distribution, shipping and communications networks.”
COVID-19, writes Homer-Dixon, is “a collective problem that requires global collective action — just like climate change.”
The same theme emerged across the Atlantic last week in a Financial Times feature that presented the coronavirus “an epidemic for our times.” Writer Henry Mance said it pits pessimistic environmentalists against optimists such as Steven Pinker. Mance sided with the pessimists. COVID-19 “could, at the very least, be part of the learning curve. If we can accept cancelled flights, closed schools, postponed sporting fixtures now, perhaps we can accept restraints in the future.”
On The Climate Crisis web page at The New Yorker magazine, U.S. radical fossil fuel activist Bill McKibben wrote that “There’s nothing good about the novel coronavirus.” McKibben didn’t really mean that, because he certainly was not going to let a pandemic stand in the way of a terrific opportunity. “However,” he continued, “if we’re fated to go through this passage, we may as well learn something from it.”