COVID-19 and Climate: Human Response
How do human beings respond to invisible threats like the coronavirus and carbon pollution? One threat is personal, direct, and close – touch an infected surface or talk too close to someone and you could be deathly sick in a matter of days. The other is impersonal, indirect, and far away– driving your car contributes in some tiny way to future melting glaciers, rising seas, and scorching heat waves. And yet responding to both requires a similar shift in mindset and behavior.
“The idea that we need some way to restrain what we ourselves do individually to secure a better outcome for the collective, for us generally, is a deep similarity between the two cases,” says Robert Frank, Professor of Management at the Cornell School of Business. “What's expeditious for an individual to do is often just a horrible thing for the community if people do it.”
As the world reacts to the novel coronavirus by demanding individual action for the collective good, some are asking when the climate threat will inspire similar action.
”Disease is a lot more immediate, a lot more scary than the idea that were gradually destroying or harming the atmosphere and the ecosystem,” says Susan Clayton, Professor of Psychology at the College of Wooster. She further notes how the messaging amplifies this impression.
“We don't have a lot of people who are very prominent talking about how scary climate change is. But we do have a lot of people talking about how scary COVID-19 is.”
The COVID pandemic has dominated and changed the conversation about everything – including climate.
“Even just a few weeks ago a few months ago you saw this extraordinary energy around climate change that I'm worrying now has been evaporated,” says Peter Atwater, who teaches Economics at the College of William & Mary, “because we've gone from an us, everywhere, forever mindset to a me, here, now, mindset.”
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