Why COVID is like Climate Change

March 18, 2020

Legendary climate scientist Ben Santer is in self-quarantine with symptoms, has been tested and waiting for results (America, right?)
Meanwhile he is writing on the parallels between Covid19 and climate change.
Excerpt here:

Ben Santer in Scientific American:

On day five I was tested for the novel coronavirus. I drove to the parking lot outside my doctor’s office. While still seated in the car, a masked and suited nurse practitioner listened to my breathing, measured my temperature, blood pressure and blood oxygenation, and took swabs of my nasal passages. The exam and test took less than five minutes.

I don’t have the results yet. I should get them soon. It will be good to know what I am dealing with. Knowing one’s adversary is always helpful.

While sequestered in my apartment, I’ve thought a lot about how complex systems respond to big perturbations. That’s part of my job. As a climate scientist, I study the atmospheric and ocean responses to different “forcings”—things like massive volcanic eruptions, large changes in the sun’s energy output, or a doubling of atmospheric COlevels. I use computer models to analyze how such shocks ripple through the climate system. What characteristic patterns of climate response do they generate? How long does it take for the climate system to return to the pre-shocked state? Are there cases when the system doesn’t spring back?

The novel coronavirus is a major perturbation to complex human systems of governance. Here are a few personal thoughts on “lessons learned” from the U.S. response to this viral perturbation.

Lesson 1: Scientific ignorance can be fatal—particularly if ignorance starts with the U.S. president and trickles down from there. It was scientifically incorrect for President Trump to dismiss the coronavirus as no worse than the seasonal flu. It was scientifically incorrect to advise U.S. citizens to engage in business as usual in the face of a pandemic. Dissemination of such incorrect information by the commander-in-chief helped to spread the novel coronavirus in America. Ignorance served as a potent disease vector.

Lesson 2: The president of the United States failed to accept responsibility for the administration’s chaotic response to the virus. The shortage of reliable tests for the “foreign” virus? Not his fault. Shutting down the White House National Security Council Directorate for Global Health Security and Biodefense? Not his decision. The quarantined passengers on a cruise ship off San Francisco? Not his problem. In the Trump administration, the buck never stops at the top.

Lesson 3: Our president cannot lead this country. A leader tells hard truths in times of crisis. A leader does not assume the mantle of expertise in areas where he or she has none. A leader is more concerned with the well-being of all citizens than with bad poll numbers or bad numbers of confirmed disease cases. A leader accepts responsibility for personal and organizational failures (see above). And a leader cares more about saving lives than winning reelection.

Lesson 4: “America First” is a singularly poor survival strategy in the middle of a global pandemic. No nation is an impregnable fortress against a microscopic agent that can hitch a ride on any plane, ship, train or car. Building effective international organizations and alliances is a far better way of surviving a global health crisis than “going it alone.”

The phrase “in an abundance of caution” has become commonplace in the last few days. Prominent politicians and celebrities use this phrase to explain their decision to self-quarantine. In the U.S., an abundance of caution should have been exercised at the beginning of the novel coronavirus pandemic. Detailed plans for scientifically accurate messaging should have been ready, along with strategies for national and international coordination of response efforts.

They were not ready. The capability to test tens of thousands of citizens a day should have been in place. It was not in place. And in an abundance of concern for public health, members of the Trump administration should have corrected the President’s misstatements on the seriousness of the coronavirus. Instead, they largely remained silent.

After years of belittling and neglecting science, Donald J. Trump is suddenly discovering that science is imperative to human survival, and perhaps even to his own political survival. Through science, a vaccine will be developed for the novel coronavirus. If this country invests in science now—and if we invest in maintaining strong global health systems—we will be better prepared for the next novel virus waiting out there.  

Pandemics are not the only existential problem we face. Climate change endangers every present and future citizen of this planet. If we truly care about the health of our communities, countries and global commons, we must find ways of powering the planet without relying on fossil fuels. It would be a tragedy to survive the coronavirus but succumb to human-caused climate disruption. An abundance of caution demands that we address both problems.

5 Responses to “Why COVID is like Climate Change”

  1. dumboldguy Says:

    The clip of the Fox News toadies flip-flopping is nauseating. They are nothing but whores and propagandists who do it for the $$$$, not serious news people, and they’ve been caught out on this issue. Of course, their low-IQ fans probably can’t remember what the toadies said the day before, so they will continue to nod in agreement with the latest daily dose of BS.

    Santer’s “lessons” are great ones, but they have more relevance to politics than climate change. It goes to show that smart people can be “smart” in more than one area (just as dumb people are usually dumb across the board—-take DJT for example)

  2. grindupbaker Says:

    I’m a bit too busy right now to get into this one because GoogleTubes keeps sending me adverts from “GAIA” about how anti-gravity was discovered 70 years ago and kept secret. I have to study that first and see whether the anti-gravity will help with my burgeoning body weight.

    • Lionel Smith Says:

      I have to study that first and see whether the anti-gravity will help with my burgeoning body weight.

      I could send you info on the anti-gravity paint used on RN’s Fleet Air Arm Sea Harriers to assist in launch. 😉

      PS Worked better than ‘sky hooks’.

  3. J4Zonian Says:

    It will be tempting for some to disinterpret this reversal. Besides the unshakable core of followers yearning for the simplicity and absolving nature of fascism, maybe those semi-climate-aware people always hoping Republicans will suddenly embrace a carbon price or can be bribed by nukes as a climate catastrophe solution—our avoidant, nihilistic amnesiac nation will ignore what’s happened even in the immediate past (like last week) or, vaguely remembering something about something, will see this move as the turning point.

    It’s more likely just one more boring flip flop in a relentless froggy stream of them, from one expedient lie to another that just happens to be true in the stopped clock sense. Just the usual kind of presidential behavior in the super-low-bar way right wing presidents get treated by US media (Biden, Reagan, Bush the Incomprehensible, Bush the Lesser…) Have we reached Trump’s Katrina? I wouldn’t count on it. Years of systematic erosion of reality have prepared the way for slips like this. Once more down the fevered memory hole with the babbling lunatics.


  4. […] and cough on them). Who knows, next thing Jeff Bezo’s might even pay some taxes! We also have the road to Damascus conversion of Fox News going from “its a democratic hoax” to “the biggest crisis in history” in the matter of a week. And […]


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