The global reaction to COVID-19 is starting to look like what the response to climate change should be, but isn’t, because human beings are notoriously bad when it comes to overestimating our own abilities and the probability that something will happen to us. Although management theories promulgating the idea of a Knowledge Economy set against the backdrop of the Information Age and the advent of the Fourth Industrial Revolution abound, what really drives the market is willful ignorance, unsubstantiated opinion adopted as fact, and evidence-informed thinking dismissed as elitism. Like ostriches that bury their heads in the sand, creating an illusion of safety, human beings avoid reality through the creation of fantasy. This isn’t new, but it is increasingly more dangerous.
Climate change creates new ecosystems by changing the parameters that regulate our environment. Warmer temperatures mean more bugs and insects. Imagine a pandemic like COVID-19 that’s spread not only via human contact, but also by mosquitoes or ticks or fleas living on mice, rats, deer, birds, dogs, and cats. These vectors are undeterred by national border closings.
In Houston, where I live, we know how to get through natural disasters like Cat 5 hurricanes and catastrophic flash floods. We band together as communities, counting on Mattress Mac, JJ Watt, HEB, and the Cajun Navy to get us through. COVID has taken away our primary response mechanism as a community, our ability to congregate safely, share resources, and be emotionally present for one another in person. Unlike the typical weather-related disaster, COVID hasn’t taken away electricity, mobile connectivity, or running water. The effect of climate change means adding an entirely new set of constraints to the privations already imposed by a global pandemic spread through person-to-person contact.
The major difference between COVID-19 and climate change is the time from threat detection to barely sufficient response. Humanity is like the proverbial frog in the pot, not realizing that the water is boiling until it is too late. We have an opportunity to take action now. We must.