Is COVID-19 a Test Run for the Climate Crisis?

Too few people listened as the pandemic grew and, because of this, the impact will be much more damaging than if they had. Are we destined to make the same mistake when it comes to climate change?

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New York End of Days

Before the events of the past three weeks, most people would have laughed at the person walking down the street with the sign that says, “The end is nigh.”

Many of us would have rolled our eyes at the consultant who told us we needed a disaster recovery plan.

And though we know that we should be saving for a rainy day and thinking about how our actions at the moment put our health and planet at risk for the future, many of us would have largely ignored this advice in order to maximize our momentary gratification.

But the past three weeks happened and, well, this isn’t going away any day soon.

No matter what politicians trying to calm the masses say, scientists and economists hold a very different opinion on how disruptive this virus is going to be for our future.

In fact, the more they downplay the impact, the more markets react negatively. The spinning of messages that works in “normal” situations is not working here. This is, precisely, why they call it a Black Swan moment: it’s unexpected and does not respond to conventional measures. From empty grocery aisles to the record fall of the Dow Jones Average to people losing their jobs in the tens of thousands overnight, there is no way to spin this into a “keep calm and carry on” message. The only response to extreme abnormal situations like this is extreme and abnormal actions.

I’ve, personally, been nervous about the outbreak from early-mid-February. My husband rolled his eyes at me for washing my hands 25x/day and purchasing masks and extra soap/hand sanitizer, but I was thinking more about the impending health crisis than the economic fallout. As soon as I witnessed the downplaying and denying of the crisis from the leadership in the US, the lightbulb went on for me around economics and, the next day no less, we saw the Dow take its first tumble.

This is bad and it’s going to be bad for weeks and, likely, months. The economic fallout will ripple far beyond this period. There are things governments can do to lessen the impact but they have to act quickly and with unprecedented spending. But no matter how bad it is (and will be for a longer period than we’re prepared for), we will bounce back and, likely, be stronger for it.

However, if we don’t take another impending crisis seriously, we have learned nothing. That crisis is the one that has been slow-burning (or, at least what we “see” as slow-burning) for a long time: the Climate Crisis.

In this week’s Anatomy of a Strategy podcast (with a whole new format!), Stefani and I speak with climate change communications consultant, Laura Fitton, about the challenge of communicating the direness of a crisis when people don’t really feel it yet and how it’s often too late once people take it seriously:

Right now, the world needs to focus our energy on solving this immediate crisis, but I’m really hoping that we come out on the other side of this more willing and eager to listen to the scientists and organizations that keep warning us we’re running out of time (and stop listening to politicians and others who have a stake in directing our attention elsewhere).

If we come out of this global pandemic with anything to learn, it should be this. Because, unlike a pandemic that is fairly temporary in it’s economic and health devastation, the climate crisis will not be.

Stay safe, wash your hands, and stay at home. If you have lots of time on your hands while in lockdown, use it to come up with a great strategy to get people to take the real threat of climate change seriously.

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