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Lessons from COVID-19 and the climate crisis

Published: 4/20/2020 1:50:54 PM

There are lessons to be learned from the coronavirus pandemic that apply to that other global emergency — the climate crisis.

The most effective strategy is to anticipate the threat and plan ahead. The failure of our government to do so has proved catastrophic. The virus and global warming are both largely invisible in day-to-day life but, if you wait until the impacts are apparent, it’s too late to stop it.

A false sense of security comes with threats that are distant, geographically or temporally. When reports first emerged of the virus in China, public health experts warned that it would spread past that region, but this advice was ignored for too long.

or years, global warming was seen as a future event and the most apparent indication of warming was in the polar regions. Even now, many think of the climate crisis as affecting other places and many Americans do not think it will affect them personally.

A significant difference between these crises is that the spread of the virus is happening very quickly, while the impacts of climate change are relatively slow moving — unless you happen to be caught in a swiftly moving flood, cyclone, or sudden heat wave.

On a more positive note, the success of sheltering in place and physical distancing shows that the public is ready and able to make sacrifices and change their behavior when faced with life-threatening circumstances. The climate crisis is an emergency with the potential to be vastly more serious than COVID-19 and we need to act before it’s too late.

However, it is hard to respond to a threat that is so all-encompassing and overwhelming. Fortunately, there is a local solution that would be a step in the right direction. The Benson Bill (H2810) proposed in the Massachusetts Statehouse would set a fee on carbon and return most of the dividends generated to the public. This would create a strong incentive for families, businesses and industry to reduce consumption of fossil fuels and transition to renewables.

The success of this proposal in Massachusetts, an idea that is also being considered in other states, would provide a valuable model for a similar approach at the federal level.

Joe Silverman


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