May 26, 2020

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Joel Nodelman

3 Lessons from the COVID Crisis for Better Climate Resilience Work

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.

Today, I consider the new normal and how lessons from the COVID crisis can help us be better in our climate work.

Lessons from the COVID Crisis

Climate change is a creeping crisis while COVID is acute. We have to be careful how we draw parallels between them, but we can still learn lessons.

COVID was global. It happened fast. It affected us all, either directly or by lockdown measures that changed our daily lives, our finances, and our security.

Climate change is also global. But it’s seen in diverse locations, over a lengthy period, and all seemingly unrelated. When it affects us, we may not relate the impact to global warming. And we are not all affected at the same time. This year's wildfire may be in Ft. McMurray and next year's flood may be in Toronto. No apparent link at all. Those connections are hard to prove and exceedingly difficult to explain to the average person. 

Lessons from the COVID Crisis- Global Warming Doesn't Feel Personal

The more personal a crisis, the more likely we are to care. Unfortunately, folks just don't see global warming as a personal threat. At best, it is something somebody else has to deal with. At worst, it is so abstract many folks discount the risk as panic-mongering.

If you lose your home to a wildfire in Ft. McMurray, it is very personal. It is less personal to folks in Edmonton, who may experience a few smokey days. Finally, it is pretty remote for somebody in Eastern Canada, who just sees it in the news, and has no connection with the people of Ft McMurray.

3 Lessons from the COVID Crisis for Better Climate Resilience Work

Two Reasons We Care

Lessons from the COVID Crisis - Two Reason We Care

There are two reasons we care about things; self-interest and empathy. 

With global warming, folks will only care if the crisis pushes one of those buttons. How does global warming affect them personally? Why should they care when it hurts others? This takes the issue out of the realm of science and technology and into that of social sciences: motivating people to do the right thing. 

Unfortunately, many of us who work in resilience don't have these skills. So, we have to learn new skills to drive proper action for change.

Lessons from the COVID Crisis- People Aren't Always Rational

And finally, COVID taught me that when confronted with unpleasant truths, people may not respond in a simple, logical way. There is an entire spectrum of reactions. There are heroes and folks who heed directions and do the right things.

But COVID taught me that some people react in very irrational ways, buying into and promoting wacky conspiracy theories, or seeking some pseudo-expert who tells them everything is fine, so they can feel better about themselves.

Finally, there are looters and pillagers, the folks that use the crisis to line their own pockets, or feed their own self-interest.

Every disaster movie has that guy who crawls over women and children to be first to safety. We feel good when that guy gets what's coming to him. But these people exist in real life. The hoarders who sell critical supplies at a premium, the politicians who changed their investment portfolios to profit from lockdown, and folks who promote dangerous cures to make a buck, even if others get ill or even die. 

Lessons from the COVID Crisis - We Need Leadership

In our climate work, we need to expect the entire spectrum of responses when folks finally get the message. We can't be complacent that they will all respond rationally.

People need leadership. Climate professionals must rise to this challenge. We have to help folks along the path and not descend into other predictably bad behaviours. We have seen it all before, COVID showed it all yet again, and it is a real threat to meaningful action on climate change.

So there is a lot we can learn from the COVID crisis to make our climate work better. As we move into the new normal, we can apply those lessons to drive toward a more resilient future.

3 Lessons from the COVID Crisis for Better Climate Resilience Work

Lessons from the COVID Crisis - We Need Leadership

Let's Chat

I'd love to hear your lessons from the crisis. Please comment below.

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

What are your five most hopeful lessons from the crisis?

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

This is part of a series of videos 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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