We’ve seen it all in the past three years. The respective “right” in many countries leaning against state intervention hoping that enough will take personal responsibility to put a dent in the problem but refusing to take central action. The respective “left” taking half hearted, soft, corporate-friendly measures that slowed but never even approached stopping the inevitable failure of the state to contain the problem. This describes a situation in which the world faces a global calamity that threatens to impose costs so immense that it would consume the political, economic, and social bandwidth of nearly every country in the world for years.
This describes COVID, of course, but is also an apt description and prediction of the worlds impending failure to, rather than stop the rise in carbon dioxide, to defer action until it is too late, and then learn to live with
the virus climate change.
The parallels between COVID and climate change are uncanny in many respects. Both represent challenges which require collective action, both in terms of complete reform of domestic politics, and in terms of international coordination, to prevent global effects. Domestic political reforms require costly measures to control the behavior of powerful firms like energy companies, industry, and agriculture, not to mention consumer behavior. This would mean challenging economic and political elites, and making unpopular moves like raising costs for consumers. They also require coordination and compliance from all states in order to prevent free riders alone damaging the protection offered by those in compliance.
In facing the spread of COVID across the world, our test run in both controlling domestic politics, and then coordinating international compliance, has failed abysmally. Most states refused to implement even the most basic procedures for controlling the spread, including producing testing kits and masks, and then mandating their usage, or at the very least limiting the free flow of the disease through enforceable measures. Those states that did comply then refused to engage in coordination efforts, in large part because the international actor in charge, the WHO, empowered through the dysfunctional UN, sacrificed its legitimacy and trustworthiness almost immediately through its politicized actions, and the utter lack of caution and scientific basis behind its proclamations.
Despite Western and WHO claims that the magic bullet mRNA vaccines have “defeated” the COVID pandemic, the US, even with its downscaled surveillance, still reported more than 73,720 cases today (May 3rd), and more than 300 deaths, likely from the “mild” Omicron straim. COVID is a persistent disaster that epitomizes our collective failure.
COVID represents an abdication of responsibility by both national and global elites, who applied half-hearted and weak measures to control the virus, before promptly and arbitrarily declaring an “Iraq-style” premature mission accomplished. They then pretended that the problem had been resolved, ignoring any future complications.
This abdication was coordinated with an attempt to minimize of the risks, while tacitly acknowledging their failure without explicitly recognizing it.
In the face of this, it seems apparent that climate change, with the need for many of the same hard asks, elite-challenging domestic restructuring, and difficult international coordination through strong institutions, will likely suffer the same fate as COVID.
Like COVID, climate change will receive strong rhetoric, little action, and then a hearty pat on the back by elites who then declare a band-aid as a solution to a “problem solved,” never to be spoken of again, while its persistence, the risks, and the calamity that befalls humanity is deemphasized, as we must simply “learn to live with climate change.”