Respond to climate change, too

Mar 22, 2020 By Aaron Dunbar Letter to the Editor in Parkersburg News and Sentinel

Transport your mind back to the beginning of this year. Or for that matter, to even a few short weeks ago.

Imagine someone telling you that somewhere, at a distant seafood market in a sprawling Chinese city, an infectious respiratory disease will make the leap from a bat or a pangolin into the body of a human being. In a short time, hundreds of thousands of people will be infected, and thousands will die. Entire cities will shut down around the world. Economies will collapse. Americans will be raiding supermarket shelves for food, toilet paper, and other essentials. Schools, restaurants, movie theaters, and sporting venues will all close. There’s a very real chance that you’ll be spending the next several months of your life quarantined inside your home.

Imagine someone telling you all of this as you celebrated the holidays, at Christmas or New Year’s. Imagine the look you would give them, and the likelihood that you would dismiss them as little more than some crackpot conspiracy theorist.

And yet this is the precise situation in which we now find ourselves.

The ongoing nightmare of the COVID-19 epidemic makes abundantly clear the connectedness and interdependence of our modern world, and the degree to which seemingly minor occurrences can produce ripple effects that extend across the globe.

Why, then, is it still so difficult for human beings to fathom the existential horror of the climate crisis, or mobilize on a level remotely resembling our response to the current outbreak?

Just as the irresponsible actions of a few wildlife traffickers in Wuhan have brought the world to a standstill, so will our own reckless decision to continue emitting greenhouse gases doom us to a fate we might now perceive as unimaginable, but which, in the long run, will prove much, much worse than anything we’ve seen.

The climate crisis carries with it its own numerous health risks, of course. As permafrost melts, unknown diseases that have lain dormant in ice for thousands of years are being released, and will likely cause future pandemics. Climate variability will also shift disease vectors, amplifying the effects of Lyme disease, dengue fever, West Nile, and a host of other pathogens. Estimates on deaths related to air pollution already range in the millions per year, and incidents of heat-related illnesses as well as famine will only become more severe as the climate continues to race toward its tipping point.

And this is just one aspect of the climate crisis.

Between the hundreds of millions of people displaced by climate chaos, economies tanked, resource scarcity caused by irresponsible consumption, whole societies whose homes will no longer exist due to rising sea levels, and any number of other butterfly effects we have yet to even imagine, we can either act meaningfully to confront the climate crisis today, or risk our current state of pandemic becoming the new norm for untold generations to come.

Please stay safe in these difficult times, and contact Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Action or the Citizens’ Climate Lobby Marietta chapter to get involved in the fight for a better tomorrow.