Per Capita Davis: Two elephants in the room
At the risk of inflicting my internal turmoil on you, I confess to a huge ambivalence in making any connection between the pandemic and the climate crisis. Do we really need two elephants in the room at the same time?
One that has been with us for a long time, decades even, becoming so familiar that many of us, too many, have placed our fear of its potential carnage on a back burner, take its presence for granted, and figure someday we’ll talk about it and figure out how to get it out of the room without the whole house shattering. Now, along comes elephant No. 2, crashing its way into the room and demanding our immediate attention.
What to do?
The pandemic is a very serious threat and failure to respond dramatically in ways that require previously unimaginable actions that alter the lives of everyone on the planet is the clear path forward: a global consensus. Forget about elephant No. 1; this virus must be stopped.
Countries around the globe shut down industries and require others to convert to the production of items needed to stop the pandemic. Scientists stop what they are doing and devote their brainpower and labs to feverish efforts to find a cure for the virus’ fever. Billions of people of all cultures are required to change behavior. This is a global Manhattan Project.
The climate crisis appropriately takes a back seat. The U.S. Congress passes a trillion-plus dollar survival bill to stop a free fall in the economy, directing funds to people who have lost their jobs and also to backstop businesses that lost all their customers, but indicates this is no time to prop up the renewable energy sector; there will be time for that later.
What to do?
The Environmental Protection Agency, responding to a request from the American Petroleum Institute for regulatory relief, tells power plants, factories and other facilities “to determine for themselves if they are able to meet legal requirements on reporting air and water pollution.” The API is concerned that the virus will affect its ability to repair leaky equipment and monitor pollutants seeping into rivers and lakes.
This is just one example, and it may be a picky one, but it does indicate a nexus between our two elephants in terms of how, once the pandemic is manageable, we will return our gaze to the climate crisis. Will we continue to ignore it or will we learn from how we responded to the pandemic.
A writer in the New York Times recently quoted Katherine Hayhoe, climate scientist, as defining the pattern of climate denial as having six stages. It’s not real. It’s not us. It’s not that bad. It’s too expensive to fix. Aha, here’s a great solution (that actually does nothing). And, oh no! Now it’s too late. You really should have warned us earlier.
Sound familiar. She could have been describing the pandemic. It’s a hoax. It’s not us, its China. We have it under control. It will magically go away. There’s a pill that will stop it. Nobody saw this coming and warned us.
The nexus, what convinced me to talk about this now, even though two elephants in the room at the same time seems like too much, is that our response to the pandemic raises really serious questions about how, as it progresses at a much slower pace than the pandemic, we will respond to the climate crisis as its negative effects accelerate.
Will we be prepared? Will there be a global sense of urgency? Will we listen to the scientists? Who will be our Dr. Fauci? Will we have capable leadership at the national and international level that will level with us about the seriousness of the problem and the need for action? Will people be willing to accept those strong measures, many of which will require changes in behavior and customs?
Will there be equality of response to those who are poor, stateless, without a voice in the halls of power? And, as asked in the Times article, “Can we respond to this crisis without relying on the bad environmental practices that got the planet into a mess?”
One other thing. Quoting from the Times article: “The concept of the personal carbon footprint was popularized by British Petroleum in a 2005 media campaign costing over $100 million — a campaign that, research has indicated, deflected responsibility for climate change away from the corporation and onto the individual consumer.”
Two books on my bookshelf illustrate the point: “30 Simple Energy Things YOU Can Do To Save the Planet” and, more ambitiously, “50 Simple Things You Can Do To Save the Earth.” Will corporations with large investments in the status quo, and government officials dependent on these corporations, accept the responsibility for action and change.
Lots of tough questions. Answers coming soon.
We can all use some humor in this tense time. Have a look at this on YouTube. Scroll down until you see the two people and an arrow to click on to start the video: https://999ktdy.com/couple-sings-what-we-are-all-feeling-homebound.
— John Mott-Smith is a resident of Davis, who lately feels like a person in that YouTube video. This column appears in the print edition of The Davis Enterprise the first and third Wednesday of each month. Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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