Some months ago I received in the email a British cartoon, showing a harassed Pom sitting in front of his TV. On the screen you could see dozens of signs with the word ‘coronavirus’ and someone is lecturing viewers about what they now had to do. His wife was staring out the window at the street, where people are marching with ‘coronavirus’ banners. Husband is saying to wife, ‘Oh, how I wish they’d bring back Brexit!’ It was worth a good laugh then, and perhaps an even bigger one now. But there is touch of real fear in the laugh. Covid-19, as we call it, is a powerful and real enemy. We in the ACT are lucky to have kept the numbers down, but Victoria has not been lucky at all, and NSW is apprehensive that the Victorian malady will spill over the border. The Victorian Premier seems to be on the box every day.
Brexit did dominate television for some months in the UK, and was big news here too. The virus has swamped television news and current affairs for almost six months now. There’s no doubt we are all sick of it, but no less doubt that we have to know what is going on, so we watch. Even the sporting news has been, until recently, more about how the football clubs are coping than with any actual play. Among those hard pressed by their new lack of capacity to get people’s attention are those who think that the real doom is not the virus, but climate change. Don’t we realise that the virus is just a passing thing, but that climate change is pushing us towards the end of human life? No, we don’t. One reason is that the warnings about it have been going on for more than forty years, but nothing of consequence seems to have happened. Another is that climate doom is now pictured in fifty years time or at the end of the century, whereas the virus is right now, and is killing people every day.
So the climate-worried are trying to find new ways of linking the virus to climate change, and in my view not very successfully. Example One: a Spanish bank (BBVA) has put out a long and quite interesting piece on ‘Viruses and climate change: how the two threats converge’. I read it without finding out how the two threats were doing that, but the title was arresting.
Example Two: Fiona Armstrong of La Trobe University published a piece on her university’s website with the main title ‘Covid-19 and climate change connected’. She begins
The Covid-19 pandemic sweeping across the world is a crisis of our own making. That’s the message from infectious disease and environmental health experts, and from those in Planetary Health — an emerging field connecting human health, civilisation and the natural systems on which they depend.
They might sound unrelated, but the Covid-19 crisis and the climate and biodiversity crises are deeply connected.
So I read on, to discover at the end that the whole essay was speculative. There was no actual evidence of any real deep connection, or even a shallow one, but our ‘war on nature’ produces both new diseases and a changing climate, she says. So there. I also discovered that the article was originally published in The Conversation. I might have guessed.
Example Three: The Lowy Institute publishes a daily website called The Interpreter in which appeared ‘Can Covid-19 responses be a model for climate action?‘ The decisive answer never appears. It might or it might not. Who can tell? Once again it is the headline that counts, though the body of the story makes clear that the Lowy Institute believes that there really is a climate crisis.
Science, bipartisanship, and public will: we’re going to need all three to crest the climate crisis. It will need deep, complex engagement with genuinely difficult policy decisions based off rigorous scientific advice, paired with commitments from all political camps to rise above meaningless “gotcha” point-scoring, and acceptance from all members of society to incur relatively small costs today to avoid far greater ones tomorrow.
Out in the world of politics, of course, there is fundamental disagreement as to what is to count as ‘rigorous scientific advice’, and great pushing for what can be called ‘the green deal’, an American phrase that is moving elsewhere in the Western world. The green deal, simply, is to rebuild the world economies, once the pandemic is over, on the basis of alternative energy sources, and get rid of fossil fuels. There is no need for me to rehash the sheer impossibility of implementing such a deal, at least in anything like the short run, and probably the long run as well. Nuclear power is not sustainable in the very long run, though it would help the Greens in the short term. Of course, they’re opposed to it.
Meanwhile, all the evidence suggests that in the rapidly developing worlds of China, India and other parts of Asia, there is a strong move towards increasing the amount of electricity produced by coal in particular. The day of coal is not over yet, by any means, and alternative energy sources for airline flight are along with the pigs-might-fly belief. The green deal is being pushed by the leftish Democrats in the US, perhaps in the hope that young voters will get out and vote in November, and in the further hope that they would prefer the green deal to Donald Trump.
These are exciting times, and frightening ones too, as a friend said on the phone the other morning. The inroads the virus is making into the aged care facilities in Victoria makes anyone in such a place, like me, hope against hope that the virus respects the NSW/Victorian border. We are a vulnerable lot, and the fear is about now, not what might happen in 2050, let alone the end of the century. Dealing with the pandemic is not easy at all for governments anywhere, and ours have done pretty well. I felt for Premier Andrews in Victoria in his mea culpa [my fault] statement, and it is nice to see a government anywhere accepting that finally it is responsible for the outcomes of the decisions it has made.
Covid-19 is our present disaster. It is some way off being solved, and until it is over there will be much less talk, and virtually no action, about climate change. For my part that latter prediction is a good thing. We will cope with, and adapt to, the changes that come with shifting patterns of climate, as we always have done. The seas will not dry up, and all species will do what seems obvious to them.