June 17, 2020

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Joel Nodelman

2020 – Our Agonizing Year of Crisis

About the author

Joel is an engineer and risk management specialist with over forty years of professional practice. He is committed to helping his clients achieve climate resiliency and sustainability.

2020 is an agonizing year. It has been traumatic. We’ve endured crisis after crisis. Mainstream and social media are going crazy, and we can't seem to get good information. We’re locked in, shut-down, and worried. 

2020 Thunderstorm Season

I hate to add to your stress, but now we are also enduring a period of terrible weather. It’s thunderstorm season here in Alberta and we are seeing some major climate events; severe rain, hail and flooding in Calgary, and severe wind and rain across the Province generally. At this time of year, I always relive Black Friday and the 1987 Edmonton tornado. 

That left lasting emotional scars. It’s been 33 years and I, like many Edmontonians of my era, still eye thunderclouds with great misgiving.  

2020, COVID-19, Race and Climate

Even so, I have been preoccupied with COVID-19 and the crisis of race across the States and Canada. These issues are deeply personal and scary. But here's the thing, climate change carries on and threatens all of us, though it seems to affect poorer communities worse. In many ways, climate risk and our other crises magnify each other. So, climate change is also deeply personal and scary.

2020 - Death and Morbidity

2020 - Our Agonizing Year of Crisis

Death and Morbidity

2020 has been deadly. But if I have learned nothing else this year, I have learned that statistics on fatalities drastically underestimate the overall trauma of a crisis.

2020 also taught me a new word, or should I say, a word I have heard often, but seldom use: morbidity. In medical circles, morbidity refers to the long-lasting effects of disease. This takes us beyond a discussion about how many people die, and into a dialogue about long-term suffering and medical care. This is a concept we need to bring into our work on climate change.

Beyond Death and Dollars

In social and mainstream media we discuss risk in terms of costs and fatalities. Sometimes, we may consider injuries, but mostly in immediate terms and not from the perspective of long-term suffering. 

But in all the crises we are living through in 2020, the effects go well beyond death and dollars. In every case, we need to get behind the headlines and think about morbidity.  

Long-Term Impacts of COVID-19

For example, this week I saw a news item about a young, previously healthy woman who received a double lung transplant because of the damage to her lungs from COVID-19. Even this story was presented as wonderful news. She lived. However, a double lung transplant is major surgery. It’s a procedure she would never have needed, had it not been for COVID-19. And it will have lasting effects on the quality of her life. The news seldom captures this long-term pain. So, when folks talk about COVID-19 not being serious because only a small percentage die, I cringe. 

Long-Term Impact of Riots

Or think about the trauma inflicted by rubber bullets, tear gas, and billy clubs. The news focuses on the immediate injury, but never contemplates the long-term health effects, PTSD, and other costs of continued care. We see momentary flashes - images of injured folks and are led to believe that afterwards, everything is fine. 

Long-Term Impact of Climate

On the climate front, stories about floods often focus on the damage and immediate clean-up. They seldom reflect on the long-term effects on the lives of folks caught up in these disasters. We rarely hear about their stress, the impact of mould, or the major increases in insurance costs, if they can get it at all. These folks have real problems getting back to normal, and many never do.

2020 - Our Agonizing Year of Crisis

Long Term Impacts

The Real Impact of 2020

These are real effects the news ignores. So, it’s up to us to look beyond the statistics and costs. All the crises we face in 2020 are real, and they’re all spectacular and newsworthy. But they also all have long-term impacts. Sure, only a few folks may die, that’s statistics, but a lot more will suffer, that’s reality. They may have to live with that suffering for a very long time to come.

Think About the Long-Term

So, I urge in every crisis, think beyond the present and contemplate those long-term impacts. That is where most of the damage happens. With this focus, we can do crisis management in a way that makes a lasting, positive difference.

Let's Chat

I'd love to hear your thoughts about 2020. Please comment below.

I have devoted several videos to the crises we have confronted in 2020. If you would like to hear more, check out our first offering on Crisis, Response and Recovery.

Feel free to contact us directly.


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  • I enjoyed your article and your genuine concern for these troubling times. I thought you were spot on with the climate changing. Whether it’s man made or a natural process. We may not know for some time but there is no doubt that our massive pollution and the way we treat this Earth will not be good for our future generations and will leave a long lasting negative impression on our current generation. I have watched weather and studied it very closely the last 40 years and there’s a lot of 100 year old records, specifically related to heat that have been broken over the last 40 years. And the rain is directly related to more heat, that is science. Much of this and the other problems in our world I see is bad politics. But what kind of bad politics you ask…? Well it is my firm belief ….and I’m not Republican or Democrat…. it has to be the bad far left and the bad far right Politicians. You can’t always be right and always have your way! It has to be true teamwork. That’s how anything good gets done. It’s why we are here today. That’s what politics is about, coming to a common middle ground which we can’t seem to do these days because of big money lobbying and political interests. This has to be the Next Cause we fight for because it has proven it’s not right and it doesn’t work. When will this change? You could go as far as to say it’s the money and the monetary society that we have created. The money system will eventually fail at this rate. You can’t have politics and money and expect them to get along, Unless, you can come to agreement and it should be made into a matter of law and even written into the Constitution that we have to come to agreement as a society, as that is the job you chose to do for the People. If you don’t, both sides will die. Some of this is because our best Americans don’t become politicians, who would want too in today’s political climate? I believe whether in my lifetime or not, If we don’t change and get a handle on this, it will no doubt be our demise.

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