Climate, COVID and Chaos – Painful Lessons from 2020


2020 started like any other year. I was glad to see the back of 2019, with its perpetual vicious dialogue on climate change. I looked forward to newer and better things.

Chaos, Old Routines and Case Studies

As early as January, though, the World Health Organization was warning us about the new carnivorous. They cautioned us if we didn’t take urgent action we’d have a pandemic. But we were slow on the uptake, and by the time governments closed things down, COVID-19 had already taken root.

Last year we said, ‘Things can’t go on like this’, and they didn’t, they got worse.

Chaos, Old Routines and Case Studies

Later, when things started to reopen, many of us just jumped back into our old routines, ignored sanitizing, masking, and social distance guidelines. Folks gathered in large groups and even attacked those who did follow new public safety guidelines. As we should have expected, new COVID cases took off. Now Alberta leads Canada with COVID infections, and Edmonton leads Alberta. 

I see the chaos of 2020 as a case study of how people react to risk. You know what they do when faced with something scary and new that hasn’t yet happened.In a dire emergency, like the Ft. McMurray wildfire, people pitch in, they help each other out, and even offer aid to complete strangers. Generally, people are really decent.

2020’s Chaos and Controversy

When we face something scary, that is only projected to happen, the response is as predictable as it is bad. Folks push back. They demand evidence and when presented with the evidence they shoot the messenger. We draw up sides and waste critical time arguing and slagging each other.  

We’ve seen all of this in 2020. COVID has become so contentious, folks see simple things like wearing a mask as a political statement and yell profanities and racial slurs at complete strangers in stores. Until the virus hits people personally, many still moan about overreaction. Meanwhile, COVID has become the third leading cause of death in the US, and it’s well on its way to taking over second spot.

Most folks don’t have direct experience with COVID. For most of us, our grasp of COVID comes from chatting with friends and social media, not the best sources of information. The COVID crisis has taken several months to evolve. It doesn’t have the immediacy of a flood or wildfire. It feels remote, so it’s easy to be complacent.

Chaos and Creeping Crisis

If we perceive the onset of COVID to be slow, though, climate change is even slower. I like to call it the creeping crisis. It is unfolding over many years, perhaps generations, but it is building momentum and will be brutal in the long run. 

All the COVID denial tactics are familiar to any of us working on climate change. We see the same disregard and discrediting of experts, drawing up sides, nasty rhetoric, and accusation of fear mongering. Finally, we may see acceptance when things hits folks directly. When that happens, people demand to know why nothing was done to prevent the disaster. 

Chaos – All Is Not Lost! 

My mom was born in 1917. She never really understood my work through most of her life. I often said when she finally got it, climate change would be mainstream. Just before she passed away at 90, she lectured me about the threat of climate change. She wondered who would fix it. I knew I had finally made it. 

It takes a long time for folks to accept inconvenient truth in the midst of chaos. But they do get there eventually. I see this in COVID and I am seeing inklings of it in our climate work. As dark as 2020 has been, it is always darkest before the dawn.

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