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COVID can teach us to face climate change

Adirondack Daily Enterprise

April 22

The COVID-19 crisis is helping us face ugly realities head-on and realize that sometimes, giant threats require a bigger-than-average responses from all of us as a whole. And climate change is a giant threat.

There are people who argue that the coronavirus is a hoax, or that it’s no worse than the flu. Likewise, there are those who argue that climate change is a hoax, or that it’s nothing we need to worry about. In both cases, these people are wrong — and foolish. To satisfy their own convenience or loyalties, they don’t look at the evidence all around the world. And as the crisis worsens, they don’t do anything to help themselves and the world around them.

Those who deny COVID-19 either don’t know, don’t believe or don’t care that more than 150,000 people have died worldwide — more than 14,000 in New York state alone. The death toll grows daily.

The evidence of climate change is also plain. The Arctic Ocean’s ice covering is melting rapidly. So is Greenland’s ice sheet, as well as Antarctica’s ice shelves and glaciers all over the planet. Ocean temperatures are rising, and ocean salinity is dropping due to all the ice melt. More than half of the coral on our planet’s seas has died off. On land, this past decade was the warmest on record, and the two hottest years on record (records generally go back to the 1800s) were in the last five: 2016 and 2019.

Humans know these things through decades of scientific observation — not just a few studies but countless, redundant ones all over the world. These studies keep echoing each other, telling us the same thing: The planet is warming, and humans are causing it.

When we see signs of winter approaching — days getting shorter, frost killing the tomatoes, snow flurries in the air — we are wise to make sure we have heating fuel and warm clothes and insulation. Likewise, it is common sense to heed the signs of a warming planet and do something — not before disaster strikes, because it’s already upon us, but before it gets worse. Before the deadly wildfires Australia and California recently experienced become more widespread, before the polar ice melt floods our coastal cities.

On the bright side, all the COVID-19 quarantining has led people to drive and fly and otherwise pollute less, and therefore has dramatically improved air quality, as shown in satellite imaging over polluted cities in places such as China and California. This is more evidence that what we humans do affects the environment. That’s why scientists now call our current time period the Anthropocene, the epoch of humans, when human activity is the dominant influence on Earth’s climate and the environment.

This Earth Day, people cannot hold gatherings or rallies, because of the pandemic. Perhaps that’s just as well. These things have not prompted our federal government to action in recent years. This Earth Day, maybe the COVID-19 crisis will get more people thinking about our how we need to deal with crises in general. Maybe it will burn off the fog of comforting illusion and inertia, and get us ready to get real.

It will be a huge lift. Easy half-measures that don’t hamper our bustling economy won’t be enough.

We as a society broke out of out comfort zones to take action about COVID-19 when it became too big and too local to ignore. Likewise, you can bet our business and government leaders will take action when Wall Street is underwater. It is inevitable we will eventually be forced into action on climate change. It will get bad, but it will be less bad if we take bigger steps sooner.

Since human activity caused climate change, and human activity can alleviate it, the responsibility for our planet and all its life forms lies with those of us humans who happen to be alive at this moment in history. We can save ourselves, our future generations and the planet, if we behave in a way that prioritizes long-term consequences over short-term gratification.

The choice is ours.

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