How the COVID-19 crisis can help fight climate change

“Just as we need a vaccine for COVID-19, climate change requires urgent solutions that can’t wait a generation. But people are moved to modify behavior based on emotion, not on research.”


You may have heard of Michael Moore’s movie, “Planet Of The Humans.”  The film basically tells us why the technology of renewable energy is not helping us fight fossil fuel use and therefore not winning the fight against climate change.  Climate change experts are saying that the film is misleading.  The basic point of the film is that many of the technologies that help renewable energy (e.g., windmills, electric cars, solar panels) rely so much on fossil fuels or nonrenewable minerals that they do not provide a permanent solution to the use of fossil fuels.

The changes that technology provides are different from the ones which we are learning as a result of COVID-19.  There have been several articles on this, and they all point to social change (which is what is happening because of COVID-19) as an effective way of fighting climate change.  For example, one article emphasizes:

Out of sight isn’t out of danger (we can’t see COVID-19, and we cannot see climate change until a horrible storm arrives; we need to deal with it beforehand)

Human behavior responds to emotion, not science  (“Just as we need a vaccine for COVID-19,  climate change requires urgent solutions that can’t wait a generation. But people are moved to modify behavior based on emotion, not on research.”)

Stop thinking “growth versus green”  (climate action is not inherently in conflict with economic growth. )

Global action is essential.  

Another one says: “Telecommuting can help fight climate change.  In cities with relatively clean electricity and long car commutes, widespread telework could reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”  Or, travel is unnecessary when you can use the internet instead.  We spend lots of resources on travelling to meetings when we could use Zoom or Skype instead.  Why don’t we?

Another emphasizes:(1) delay is costly; (2) effective policies must be designed so as to overcome psychological biases; (3) policies must adequately address existing inequalities to prevent worse outcomes; (4) wide international collaboration is essential; (5) scientific policy advice needs to transparently balance factualness with inherent value judgments. Despite those parallels, we find important reasons why climate change mitigation is a harder challenge for economic policy making: it requires profound and lasting transformations of the global economy.”

A British group says: COVID-19 may be a historical turning point for fighting climate change.  It wants:

  1. Low-carbon retrofits and buildings that are fit for the future.  
  2. Tree planting, peatland restoration, and green infrastructure.  
  3. Energy networks must be strengthened for the net-zero energy transformation in order to support electrification of transport and heating. 
  4. Infrastructure to make it easy for people to walk, cycle, and work remotely.  For home working to be truly a widespread option, resilient digital technology (5G and fiber broadband) will be needed.
  5. Moving towards a circular economy.   We can not only increase reuse & recycling rates rapidly but stop sending biodegradable wastes to landfill.  
  6. Reskilling and retraining programs.  
  7. Leading a move towards positive behaviors.  
  8. Targeted science and innovation funding.  

If one were to try to summarize all these ideas, what would they be?

  1. Acting now on a worldwide basis.  This doesn’t mean doing the same things to reduce emissions everywhere, but all countries should act, but act now, not waiting for disasters.
  2. Modifying construction in buildings and transportation to lower carbon emissions.
  3. Avoid policies that require physical transportation and emphasize virtual meetings.  We have learned to do this in COVID-19.
  4. Emphasize vegetable food and reduce animal foods.  This can reduce carbon emissions and use of water.
  5. Retrain the population for work that is stay at home.
  6. Eliminate private vehicles and emphasize walking, bicycles, public transportation, and other forms of ride sharing.
  7. Move towards reuse and recycling.
  8. Eliminate inequalities.

Question: should we build yachts and large boats?  Yes, but they should be shared facilities and not just for the wealthy.

Let’s take something simple like a school bus.  Using them would lessen the use of individual vehicles to take children to school.  But the busses should be designed for use as delivery vehicles when they are not used to transport children.  Moreover, educational training should use virtual meetings to avoid unnecessary transportation.


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