The Short Long Road: COVID-19 and Climate Change

Updated: Mar 24, 2020

The new Coronavirus is causing world-wide panic and pandemic, which is forcing all of us to change how we live, how we relate, and what we prioritize in our lives. There is so much uncertainty and fear, so many missed opportunities and so many people and organizations doing good now, for the larger communal good. While we all take care of our families and figure out how to survive the social isolation, social tension, and economic upheaval, this is also a time to take notes which will be crucial for a much larger and complex threat, Climate Change, and the social disruption that presents before us. It is what the Pentagon calls a “threat multiplier.” Sea level rise is just the tip of the iceberg of Climate Disruption. What is already present are increased storms and floods, extreme heat and droughts, increased spread of infectious diseases like Lyme, Zika, EEE, etc. It is these which will cause societal disruption in our very near future, in our generation, not just that of our children or grandchildren. Can we use this current pandemic, to help us take the societal disruption of Climate Change more seriously, and prepare for it? Might COVID-19 function for us, like the destruction of the First Temple and consequent exile functioned for the Israelites of the Biblical era? Many died, even more suffered, and it changed almost everything. However, that exile also prepared the community for the transformation which would be necessary after the destruction of the Second Temple and that consequent exile, which we are still in.

There are of course huge differences between my parallels, the scale of death will hopefully be much smaller, this version of first exile shorter. However, the interlude between catastrophes will be much shorter too. We won’t have five centuries between crises. We may not even have five years, though we can’t know such details with exactitude. It’s also not necessary to agree whether Climate Change contributed (or contributes) to the spread of COVID-19 epidemic. What we do know with certainty is that epidemics like this are much more likely with an increasingly chaotic climate, as are innumerable other diseases and disasters.

What might we learn from the COVID-19 societal disruption and response around the world to help us prepare for that bigger coming disruption?

- Up until now, most mainstream conversation about the environment, even the Green New Deal in some ways, have been talking about incremental change, big nudges to technology and the market. COVID-19 has put our fancy technology and complex system of markets to their knees in a matter of weeks. If nudges are not enough under COVID-19, just imagine what we need under Climate Disruption?

- Up until now most people have been either immobilized by fear into denial, or trying to barter with nature’s timelines to make sure that any changes made fit do not disrupt the current economic mold. If our economy cannot handle COVID-19 without a drastic response, just think what Climate Change will do, as it brings more and more disasters with global ripples to our shores will do?

- Up until now, concerns about sustainable energy and agriculture have focused on incremental increases in organic, local, efficiencies in solar panels and energy storage. If COVID-19 disrupts our ability to get enough hand-sanitizer and respirators, imagine what Climate Change will unleash?

What do we need to do to prepare for those large-scale changes? I’m not asking these questions to provoke fear, but to stoke serious conversation about how to use this time of unsettling chaos to prepare for the future. If you do feel fear, however, please know this is a healthy response. This is healthy fear, letting you know that your system is letting in information about the danger ahead. Do not close off this channel of insight, but honor it, and turn it towards concerted reflection about hard realities and committed action to prepare for next year, the next decade, and ahead. Responding now will be the short long road. It will be painful and difficult, but wise. However, if we continue to wait and let our fear keep us stuck in incremental change, the next opportunity will be an even more painful long, long, road.

It is okay to run away from the call of necessity for a short while, most of the Hebrew Prophets ran away. Moses ran into the desert. Jonah ran towards the ocean. However, in the end, we have to face the burning bush of catastrophe. Like Jonah, we have to recognize and announce that in just a bit more time “Nineveh will be overturned.” The Rabbis commented accurately, it was up to Nineveh whether that overturning will be in the form of disaster or a committed change of heart and action.

To read more on this topic, take a look at:

Outbreaks in the Anthropocene: Growth Ain't The Cure

The Corona Connections: Forest Loss Drives Viruses as Well as Climate Change

What if the Virus is the Medicine