Other Voices: Crisis produces 'cultural antibodies' to combat global climate change

This pandemic is priming us for the urgent battle against climate change. Beyond the coronavirus horizon, we will find a community with strong “cultural antibodies” against global threats. Imagine a world collectively in favor of climate actions that don’t jeopardize planetary health for greed or partisan gain. COVID-19, through fear and tragedy, is allowing us to rise above such attitudes and is changing the minds of millions of skeptics and leaders.

Will we respect climate scientists as we respect Dr. Anthony Fauci? Will we realize that a carbon tax is an urgent mitigating measure? Such changes have never been more likely.

There are three “cultural antibodies” that can reshape the climate discourse: (1) desire for early mitigation, (2) trust in science and (3) confidence in economic action.

1. Decisive climate action has heretofore been crippled by an attitude of procrastination, with vague hopes for technology breakthroughs; post-coronavirus, we will be reluctant to wait passively for an unlikely “carbon vaccine” in the face of this existential threat. Instead, we’ll choose early mitigation to quickly flatten the curve and save lives.

2. Scientific advice is necessary and reassuring in a crisis. The pandemic has seen the spread of data and charts and a new appreciation for experts – even a “Fauci fever.” We don’t lack experts on global warming, but we need leaders who consistently point to and esteem them. The coronavirus is teaching us to trust experts because we are safer when we heed their knowledgeable advice.

3. Carbon pricing is the most widely endorsed lever to turn the tide of climate change. And there is already a bipartisan bill in Congress: the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act (H.R. 763). It will reduce carbon emissions by 40% in the first 12 years and return all carbon fee revenue to U.S. households; but it has nevertheless remained unpopular in some quarters. That is about to change. Millions of Americans are now receiving stimulus checks (up to $2,400) – an important precedent that will boost the political acceptance of carbon pricing with its attendant dividends. This measure will protect us from price increases, provide an economic stimulus and rebalance the carbon economy.

If we fail to act, the consequences will be dire. When sea-level rise starts washing over coastal cities and storms and heat ravage the country, “shelter in place” will have a new meaning.

If a global mandate of “carbon distancing” becomes necessary, it will likely last decades. What extreme and unpredictable impacts would such eleventh-hour measures have on our future?

With an increased desire to mitigate risk, a renewed trust in science and confidence in economic levers, the world has never been better poised to tackle the climate crisis. From this era of COVID-19 we see a stronger global community emerging with the ability to come together for a safer future.

What can each of us do to flatten the climate curve?

Call your local representatives to tell them that climate action matters to you.

Advocate for specific measures such as carbon pricing (for example, H.R. 763).

Vote for candidates who will step up to confront the climate crisis. And use your passion to help spread the “cultural antibodies” of urgency, climate science and economic stimulus.

Fausto D’Apuzzo of Mountain View is a research scientist at HP Inc. and a volunteer with Citizens’ Climate Lobby. Lanier Poland is a junior at Mid-Peninsula High School and a volunteer with Citizens’ Climate Lobby.

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