Friday Wrap-Up 3/27
What likely comes as no surprise, climate news this week heavily mirrored major headlines, namely the relationship between climate action and international response to COVID-19. Similarly, the U.S. stimulus package went back and forth all week with debates over who to fund, how to fund and could it be done in a way that also addressed the climate crisis. But there were some good nuggets to take away. Check them out below!
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Climate Change & COVID-19
“Similarly, with climate change, we had effective warning in the late nineteen-eighties and early nineties. At that time, we could have made somewhat disruptive efforts to cut carbon emissions by a per cent or two a year—call it the South Korean approach…We’ve emitted more industrial carbon since 1988 than in all of prior human history, utterly failing to flatten the curve. (In fact, we call the diagram that outlines our dilemma the Keeling Curve, and it just keeps rising.) As a result, we now have to act in far more disruptive ways.”
COVID-19 isn’t the first time we’ve had to “flatten the curve.” We’ve needed disruptive solutions to keep curves from launching off the charts at several key moments throughout history. And there are more curves to come, which is why it’s time to tackle the climate crisis.
“We went through the stages of climate change denial in the matter of a week,” said Gordon Pennycook, a psychologist at the University of Regina in Saskatchewan, Canada, who studies how misinformation spreads. Naomi Oreskes, a historian of science who has studied the origins of climate disinformation, spelled out the pattern in an email: “First, one denies the problem, then one denies its severity, and then one says it is too difficult or expensive to fix, and/or that the proposed solution threatens our freedom.”
COVID-19 could be an example of how to bridge partisan politics when it comes to non-partisan crises (like climate change). Even when it feels like we’ll never come to a place of agreement. We’ve seen these patterns before (like denying the problem, denying the severity, then saying it’s too expensive to fix––sound familiar?). Patterns of skeptical responses can be broken.
“The big difference between coronavirus and climate change is that people’s bullshit detectors are on high alert on this issue compared to climate change,” says John Cook, a cognitive psychologist at the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication and co-author of a new handbook on how to debunk conspiracy theories. “They just have a much lower tolerance for misinformation—both the public and the media.”
Because COVID-19 is an immediate threat (whereas climate has felt less so) media and the public are clamping down on misinformation much more quickly. And debunking conspiracies around COVID-19 could help debunk conspiracies around climate. One debunk begets another debunk begets another debunk…
U.S. Stimulus Package
“Or take the fossil-fuel industry itself. It’s been dropping in value for a decade, as renewable energy takes most of the growth in demand, but the coronavirus crisis has hammered the price of oil. Trump promised to fill the Strategic Petroleum Reserve “right up to the top,” but the drillers will doubtless want more. Yet, as Michael Brune, the head of the Sierra Club, told me, on Thursday, “the fossil-fuel industry is already heavily subsidized by the federal government, and they should not get yet another giveaway in any form, whether it’s low-interest loans, royalty relief, new tax subsidies, or filling the reserve.” More assistance should come only if these companies pledge to stop exploring for new oil, since climate scientists have made it clear that we can’t burn what we already have in our reserves.”
First off, bailouts should show some reflection of companies that plan to address the Paris Climate Agreement––addressing one crisis helps address another. Plus, clean, renewable energy makes up a significant part of our economy. This is our chance to build a new status quo.