Keep in mind that I realize this is a bad time to bring this up. The coronavirus has to be the number one priority.
That said, if there is one good thing that has come out of the coronavirus, it is that, at least on this issue, the nation has once again become united.
On everything from the establishment of social distancing rules to the stimulus package, our government has acted in a bipartisan way, and no one is suggesting that someone should be voted out of office for working with the other side.
So why is it that we can move heaven and earth, significantly disrupting the lives of all of us, for the coronavirus, yet we as a global society refuse to budge when it comes to global warming? Sorry, climate change.
Both issues have something in common. Doing nothing meant overloading hospitals, which may have caused deaths that could have been prevented. By attempting to “flatten the curve,” we gave our hospitals and our mask and ventilator manufacturers a chance to ramp up.
We as a state and nation have gotten this done. It’s amazing to me, because we are hitting the economy in the gut in the process. With Gov. Tim Walz’s announcement this week, we are guaranteed to have shut down Minnesota for six weeks, and we really don’t know if that will be the end. Everyone has accepted the fact that the health of our state’s residents is more important than a short-term economic dip.
In the case of climate change, doing nothing means that, by 2050, we could be living in a world with exponentially more fatal weather events such as tornadoes, hurricanes and droughts. We could have areas that used to be fertile agricultural land turn into deserts. We could have parts of the world that are simply too hot to live in. And most of all, we could have the oceans rise to a point where the East Coast is under water.
Doing something means stopping or severely curbing our use of oil and coal, switching to solar, winds or at least natural gas, and finding ways to less energy in general. Yes, doing these things will result in a short-term economic dip. We’ll have to remake our power plants, our cars, and our homes so that we are more electrically efficient. Oil companies will lose out, and power companies will have to invest to where it will hurt.
But it can be done, and it can be done on a global scale. The recent behavior of every country in the world proved it. The canals of Venice, once murky, now are clear. Carbon dioxide emissions from China dropped by 25% during the four-week peak of the coronavirus battle.
So why has the coronavirus issue been so bipartisan, and the climate change issue still embroiled in partisan rhetoric to the point that nothing gets done?
I think it mostly has to do the with the degree of subtlety of the evidence.
A look at the numbers explains why we as a globe reacted so quickly and thoroughly. As of Thursday, there were nearly 1.5 million cases and 88,000 deaths worldwide. The U.S. is leading all countries with 434,000 cases and, with 14,802 deaths, inevitably will soon lead the world in that category as well. The long list of celebrity deaths, including singer-songwriters John Prine and Joe Diffey, puts a face to those deaths even for those of us not living in hot spots. There’s nothing subtle about that evidence.
In the case of climate change, the evidence is there, from the melting of the polar ice caps to the continued record annual temperatures to the increase in severe weather events. But when I can look out the window this morning and see snow on the ground and cold outside and it’s nearly mid-April, it sure doesn’t seem like the world is warming up to me. Despite video of ice walls from Greenland crashing into the ocean, the evidence of global warming doesn’t hit us in the head to the point where we all agree we need to do something about it.
Maybe the coronavirus will serve as a lesson on climate change. At the beginning of this, I believe our president said it was a “hoax” and basically pooh-poohed it, until the evidence started piling up.
Once this is all over and we get back to normal, I’m hoping the world will take another shot at climate change. The nice thing about tackling climate change is that we don’t have to shut everything down immediately. Let’s just take some incremental steps, and see how it goes.
Joel Myhre is a Fergus Falls resident.
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