I’ve been spending more time taking walks while practicing “social distancing”. Besides our neighborhood, we’re fortunate to have parks nearby including Buffalo Bayou Park (see Earth Day 2019) which has numerous trails for walking, running, biking as well as scenic areas for relaxing and reflecting. And considering the impact the coronavirus has had on everything, I’ve been reflecting a lot.
One of the overriding themes from health and scientific experts is the critical importance for everyone to practice social distancing to avoid spreading the coronavirus. You’ve heard the pleas – “please don’t go out and socialize with your friends”; please don’t take your kids to play dates”; “please eliminate any non-essential travel”; “please postpone that visit to your aunt or grandmother”.
These “pleas” are basically telling ME to stop doing some of the things I want to do. And all these “things” I’m being asked not to do, like being with friends and relatives, going to restaurants and movies, etc. are good and enjoyable things… and I’m being asked to sacrifice MY enjoyment not only to keep me safe, but perhaps more importantly, to keep OTHERS safe. Basically, I’m being asked to put my desires aside for the benefit of OTHERS, i.e., the WE.
The logic for these pleas is irrefutable. Take for example, younger people. If they contract the coronavirus, and they don’t already have underlying health issues, the data suggests that most will experience flu-like symptoms and will be uncomfortable for a few days, but they will likely be fine after a short period of time. On the surface, it might seem to them that what they are being asked to do – i.e., hunker down, stop going out, put their “life” on hold for a while – is a pretty big “ask” considering the consequences to them might just be a few days of being “sick”. Big deal!
But what we also know, is that if everyone doesn’t “hunker down, shelter-in-place, etc.”, the virus will spread, because it is so infectious and it is transmitted without the carrier showing symptoms. That’s what the scientists and health officials tell us and if we believe them, we can expect this potentially deadly virus will spread to vast numbers of people, including the “older generation” and those with underlying health conditions. One official put it this way: follow these recommendations regarding social distancing to “keep your grandmother safe”. In other words, put WE ahead of ME.
As I listened to these health and scientific experts asking people, especially the younger generation (i.e., those that go out a lot) to sacrifice their desires for the health and well-being of an older generation, the parallels to climate change seemed so obvious. With climate change, and global warming, “advocates” are sounding the alarm and pleading for society and our leaders to take “sacrificial actions” (drive less, travel less, consume less, – reduce your carbon footprint) for the primary benefit of the youngest generation – our children and grandchildren. Our Children Are Our Future!
As part of the older generation, the severe impacts of climate change will likely not significantly affect my life. Sure, in my lifetime, I’ll experience more erratic and severe weather patterns – perhaps be more likely to be affected by a tornado or flooding – all as a result of climate change we are already witnessing. But what I won’t see, because it will happen after I’m gone, will be the irreversible impacts of increasing temperatures, massive land loss, populations displaced and forced to migrate, loss of crops, and most importantly, the inability of society to halt the continuing worsening of our environment. Experts tell us we will reach a tipping point beyond which, we won’t be able to fix it! We won’t be able to undo the damage. That will happen years from now, when my children are my age, and my grandchildren are adults, raising their children. At that point, without significant changes by US, now, the trajectory for our planet will a continuing worsening environment that we will not be able to undo. The horrors of how bad it will likely be, are inevitable, unless WE begin to put, WE ahead of ME.
And why do I believe this? Because that is what 99% of the scientists are telling us. If you have doubts as to how bad it will be in the year 2050, or 2060, read about it. There are so many well written books and articles telling the same story. Check out This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein or Falter, Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out? by Bill McKibben or The Uninhabitable Earth – Life After Warming by David Wallace-Wells.
Last September, Time Magazine published a special issue devoted to climate. One of the articles was entitled 2050: HOW EARTH SURVIVED by Bill McKibben. That article, which I would characterize as optimistic, is a futuristic vision from the year 2050 describing the steps society took beginning in 2020 to address climate change. They weren’t small steps at all, but even with dramatic steps, the effects of climate change that are already “baked in” because of our actions to date, are described. It’s eye opening, disturbing, and encouraging because what WE do now will make a difference.
The warning signs for climate change are right in front of US – just like this coronavirus – and WE need to mobilize to defeat it – just like this coronavirus – and the steps WE need to take require sacrifice – just like this coronavirus – or WE face the consequences – just like this coronavirus.
It’s ME sacrificing for WE! That means I need to reduce my carbon footprint – less driving, less flying, less consumption, changing my diet, and many other steps. And there needs to be more MEs for WE to avoid destroying our planet for the next generations. The solutions to address climate change – some would characterize as “sacrifices” – are trivial compared to the sacrifices we will be experiencing over the coming months due to coronavirus. Maybe we can learn something about our ability to sacrifice, for the good of our planet.
One final note. I believe our behavior is about choices – whether it involves climate change, or conducting ourselves in a moral manner. Regarding the coronavirus, I plan to continue to practice social distancing to minimize the likelihood I be exposed to, or might infect someone with the coronavirus. This is what the health experts tell us we should do, and I believe them. I hope you will too.