If we were to draw an analogy between climate change and medicine, Covid-19 would be an acute illness and climate change a chronic health issue.Due to the clear and present danger of the coronavirus, the entire world sprang into action and stretched their capabilities to cope and survive. Every single country fought to save as many lives as they could, an effort that pushed some nations to the brink of collapse. Climate change, on the other hand, is like hypertension or diabetes, which are relatively tolerable conditions even when neglected for extended periods. That is, until the system hits the point of no return. The Covid drama that played out over the last 18 months offers many lessons, and we should evaluate if any of them is applicable to our efforts in dealing with climate change. In the research paper ‘Analogical Problem Solving’ (Gick and Holyoak, 1980), out-of-field strategies are used to tackle sticky problems which have no answers from known solutions within the industry. Perhaps it is also worth drawing a parallel between the two here.
Knowing the Enemy
Scientists and doctors raced against time to research the coronavirus, draw up safety measures and develop vaccines in double-quick time. The immediate impact of the deadly virus made the need to understand it imperative, showing that nothing beats first-hand experience when it comes to learning. The effects of climate change is more discriminatory as it most severely impacts the poorest communities. The Global Climate Risk Index 2021 states that for the period from 2000 to 2019 Puerto Rico, Myanmar and Haiti ranked highest in terms of impact from extreme-weather events. Poor countries are hit the hardest as they have a lower coping capacity and need more time to rebuild and recover.
Ironically, affluent nations, which experience less impact arising from climate change due to more immediate access to shelter, and other resources, may respond only when it is too late, like the proverbial ‘frog in boiling water’. A relentless and effective dialogue is critical to keep the momentum going and trigger action. For the Covid crisis, it is tough enough, as it is, to challenge the inconsistent views about the severity of the situation we are in. In the fight against climate change, we must spare no effort to communicate and educate.
Flexibility in Fluidity
Despite the best efforts to grapple with the enemy, the fluidity of knowledge and strategies weakens the attempts to pin it down. Incomplete views of the virulence of Covid-19, the need for economic continuity and ever-changing global scenarios form a highly dynamic environment in which we have to constantly adapt to new controls, standards and routines.
Like the pandemic, climate change is also a constantly evolving beast. Different schools of thought have resulted in conflicting views of the crisis, and there is no unified way of understanding the plight we are in.
Our approach can no longer be based on a single truth and solution, but more of a cocktail of strategies and tactics. This entails constantly looking for new planning and design approaches, while at the same time being prepared to abort solutions we have grown comfortable with.
A United Effort
Climate change is an existential issue that threatens the future of mankind, and government organisations must get involved. As healthcare institutions put together teams and resources to fight the virus in unprecedented ways, non-healthcare groups have also been roped in. For example, construction companies and the military are deployed to build quarantine facilities, while manufacturers are activated to ramp up personal protective gear production.
One key aspect of sustainability efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change is the continuity of social and community support. To achieve a long-lasting behavioural change, people need to be socially invested, or the efforts will lose steam.