April 1, 2020


Joel Nodelman

4 Basic Thoughts About Risk, Safety, and Climate

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.

In this video I share basic thoughts about risk, safety, and climate. Last week I promised to share some observations about COVID-19 and climate change.

I hesitate to discuss this at the moment, but there is a lot we can learn as we work our way through the current crisis. So, here are my preliminary thoughts. I encourage you to join in this discussion by commenting below. As with any risk, we are making important observations and decisions that we are not documenting along the way. We are too busy just getting by. 

We can all contribute by documenting our learnings. Then we will have them to help prepare for the next big one that may come down the pipe at us.

People Respond Differently to Risk

People are scared. We respond to fear differently. Some folks step up and lend a hand, sometimes with no regard for their own safety. These are heroes, some because it’s their job, others just because it's their nature. 

Some stand on the sidelines giving colour commentary. They filter their offerings through their biases. So, if you are a Conservative you may have very little good to say about the way a Liberal manages this crisis, and vice versa. Even if everyone is doing the same things. We find solace in familiar activity. Sniping at the government is familiar. As long as it remains sideline commentary, there is no real harm. It serves as a safety valve.

Finally, there are those who turn tail and run. The urge to run away from a crisis is in-bread. So, we have to work hard with frightened people to get their support. They may be risking their own safety. Think about the folks that ignore evacuation orders during a wildfire or flood. Or those who simply refuse to follow guidelines in the current crisis. They want it all to go away. They are running away and putting themselves, their friends and family, and our heroes at greater risk.

Similarities between COVID-19 and Climate Risk

I note the similarities between the COVID-19 crisis and climate change. Both risks are invisible until they hit. Both are best described with science. Both are complex. Both are fatal. And this is really important - both have a major monetary effect. Worry about jobs and family drives the resistance to act.

Differences between COVID-19 and Climate Risk

There are also distinct differences between the two. COVID-19 is an acute risk. We must respond right now, no time to ponder, we have to act! On the other hand, climate change is a creeping risk, less visible but potentially far more devastating over the long term.

Also, COVID-19 is a new risk, while climate change has been with us for a while. We have a good understanding of climate risk, but are still learning about COVID-19.  While we have experience with past pandemics, they are all different pathogens and behaved somewhat differently. So, we don't know yet how this will play out in the long term.

People Cope with COVID-19 and Climate Risk in Much the Same Way

Despite the differences between the two, folks respond to both in similar ways. I have spoken before about a climate grieving cycle, so I won't dwell on this here. However, I see the same cycle happening with COVID-19 in real-time. People are denying, angry, depressed, and bargaining. It takes time to reach acceptance. But without acceptance, there is no real action. The grief plays out in anti-social behaviour  - refusing to self-isolate and social distance, hoarding, and urging others to do the same.

Risk, Safety and Climate - We Must All Do Our Part

4 Basic Thoughts About Risk, Safety, and Climate

Risk, Safety and Climate - We Must All Do Our Part

We must all play our part in helping others through the cycle to acceptance. This takes patience and resisting the temptation to express our anger. We have to have some empathy. But that doesn't mean turning a blind eye. We must provide guidance and, where necessary, be a bit more assertive. But yelling and screaming will delay progress. People dig in and everything stops.

Finally, the vast majority of folks will do their part. We can convince the sceptics that the risk is real. It affects them, and their loved-ones. While there is no need to panic, we each have to do our part. We are all in this together.

Let's Chat

I'd love to hear your thoughts about these important issues.

How are you coping during the current COVID-19 crisis?

What are you learning as we wend our way through self-isolation and social distancing?

What similarities and differences do you see between COVID-19 and climate change?

This is the second video I have devoted to these issues. If you would like to hear more, check out our first offering on Crisis, Response and Recovery

If you wish feel free to contact us directly.

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