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Covid-19 and the climate crisis are linked
– by Katie Cashman, Waldo Soto, Luis Cisternas
Mauritius is trying to fight beach erosion due to rising sea levels with sand bags.
The global crisis around the Covid-19 pandemic accentuates the fragility of governing systems and the lack of a coordinated crisis response. Safeguarding the economy versus protecting people’s lives have been internationally established as the poles determining the range of governmental actions.
This is similar to the orientation of responses to global warming. Many consider climate action to be in contrast to a growing economy. The similarity between the crises is unquestionable, although the Covid-19 crisis might end soon – which is definitely not the case for the climate crisis.
In both crises, those who suffer the most are those who were already vulnerable, either because of their age, illness, or because of a state that fails to protect them. This is particularly the case in countries with high inequality, poverty, poor health systems, corruption and government mistrust. Loretta Hieber, the UN delegate for disaster risk reduction for the Asia-Pacific region, said on 22 April: “The most marginalised are the most severely impacted by both crises.” The crises affect all individuals, but at the same time exacerbate the vulnerability of those with less resources.
According to early scientific definitions, a crisis is characterised by a disruptive stimulus – surprise, a shock – which causes individuals to readapt their behaviour. Such “shocks” could have permanent consequences, such as chronic stress or malnutrition. Under a crisis stimulus, people develop a problem-solving attitude. However, if they are not successful in solving the problem, they may permanently lose their confidence for solving future challenges. In this way, a crisis can be seen as a turning point in life, in which a person either expands their repertoire of tools to solve problems or ends up with techniques that are not adapted or applicable to reality. The same applies to communities and organisations.
Therefore, both the Covid-19 crisis and the climate crisis can serve as opportunities to adopt new behaviours, expand the set of available tools and improve problem-solving abilities. A crisis is temporary, but what remains of it depends on the response to it. The fundamental question is how to cope with and overcome the crisis in a way that leads to improved resilience. Lessening inequalities in our societies seems to be the fundamental answer to ensuring the protection of all in the face of crisis.
Waldo Soto is director at 2811, an environmental civil-society organisation in Germany, Chile, and Colombia.
Luis Cisternas is a psychologist and resident at 2811.
Katie Cashman is the climate action director of 2811.