This is an enormous shock to the way that we think about ourselves in the world, and it’s a real reminder, of how important it is for us to work with each other to deal with things. It is giving us a real sense that there are no borders anymore, much as it is with environmental pollution and with climate change, we really do all live on the same planet. I think that change in the way that we feel about the world, will go on for quite a long time after we have got over the immediate health impact, and even perhaps when we have got beyond the economic consequences.
We have seen very clearly, whether you look at the fact that the canals in Venice are cleaner, or whether you look at the fact that for parents of children with asthma, the air that their children breathe is much cleaner, that there are lots of accidental environmental benefits coming out of this. Hopefully when the economy recovers, we won’t make the same mistakes that we made in the first place, so we really will learn lessons from this shock, and do a much better job, in terms of managing the impact that we have on all of those life systems that we depend on for our prosperity and security.
The coronavirus is very immediate, so it really captures your attention. The danger with climate change, is that while it may have a much more significant impact on our lives, even than the coronavirus, it is a much slower burn, so it is much harder to mobilise an effort in the same way. This makes it more important that we learn those basic lessons about cooperating with each other, about listening to experts, and about the role that governments can play when they put their minds to it. Those are all lessons that we are learning from this, and we must not forget how important those lessons are. Dealing with climate change really means that we can’t forget any of them.
I think that what has become really clear, especially with climate change, is that the public has become very anxious about what we are doing to the environment. We saw it with plastics in the ocean, and that has really resulted in change. That anxiety is reflected through programs like earth hour, through the print media, and through social media channels, that’s how we are aware of what we are doing to the planet. It has begun to make a real difference, but it isn’t making a difference fast enough, and that is a real problem.
These are some excerpts of an interview I did for Al Jazeera about the impact of coronavirus on Earth Day and on the way that we think about climate change.