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Juxtaposition - A Tale of Two “Crises”

Edward A. Reid Jr.
Posted On:
May 5, 2020 at 6:00 AM
Climate Change

Over the past year, there have been growing efforts to label climate change a “crisis” and begin dealing with it on that basis. These efforts have largely been ignored by the general public, primarily because there is no clear indication that the climate change which has been occurring is now, or is likely to become, a “crisis”. The two primary signals of climate change, near-surface temperature increases of 0.013°C and sea level rise of 3.0 mm per year, are undetectable without instruments and not easily detectable with them. The cumulative increases of approximately 1°C and 0.4 meters over the past 140 years have not resulted in any adverse impacts which are broadly perceived as a “crisis”.

Over the past 4 months, there has been growing global concern regarding the spread of the COVID-19 corona virus, its communicability, the severity of the infection and its growing lethality. The World Health Organization has declared the growing spread of the virus as a pandemic. The general public has not been allowed to ignore state and national government efforts to inhibit the spread of the virus. The rapidly growing numbers of infected and dead has occasioned requirements to “shelter in place” and practice “social distancing” to reduce potential exposure. The experience of approximately 60,000 deaths from the virus in the past 100 days has been impossible to ignore.

The contrast of global, national and public reaction to an obvious current global health crisis of pandemic proportions and the reaction to a potential “crisis” in the long-term future has been stark. The climate change issue has virtually disappeared in the media and from presidential politics, replaced by the global health crisis.

Climate change activists have had several interesting reactions to the shift in attention from climate change to COVID-19. Some have attempted to make a connection between climate change and the viral pandemic. However, flu viruses are largely cold season afflictions, so any connection to global warming is tenuous at best.

Others have pointed out the effects of government restrictions on a broad range of activities on global carbon dioxide emissions, suggesting the existence of a “silver lining” to the pandemic. However, this “silver lining” is not apparent to the afflicted.

Still others have suggested that the magnitude of the global response to the pandemic demonstrates a global ability to deal with the potential future climate “crisis” on some accelerated schedule. There have even been suggestions that the magnitude of the financial response to the pandemic indicates an ability to meet the goals and schedule of the Green New Deal in the US and the Green Deal in the UK. This position ignores the two order of magnitude difference in the funding involved.

Clearly, the obvious threat of the current pandemic has overwhelmed the far less obvious potential threat of continuing gradual climate warming and sea level rise in the attention of both global governments and their citizens. Equally clearly, the economic losses resulting from the pandemic and government efforts to control its spread will affect funding for climate change programs for the foreseeable future. Perhaps the most obvious funding “victim” will be the UN Green Climate Fund.