Analogies and lessons from Covid-19 for tackling the extinction and climate crises

Anthropogenic warming can trigger state shifts in ecosystems, which further increase net emissions. Scientists have likewise been warning for decades of the probability that human actions will be triggering a sixth mass extinction, and of the dire consequences of major human-induced shifts in the Earth’s climate. Yet, with these environmental catastrophes unfolding over decades — rather than months in the case of Covid-19—even now government responses to them, as reflected in international commitments, are patchy and inadequate.

In this essay, Andrew Balmford and collegaues suggest that there are three other striking similarities among the Covid-19, extinction and climate crises. 

The first is that there is no substitute for early action. 

Second, in each case mounting effective and acceptable interventions requires decision-makers and citizens to act in the interests of society as a whole and in the interests of future generations. In the Covid-19 crisis, young and working people have made sacrifices for the older and more vulnerable. For the climate and extinction crises, effective action requires that wealthier people forgo extravagance both for the present-day poor and for all future generations. 

Third, even examined in narrow financial terms, as the immense toll of the Covid-19 crisis on livelihoods and the global economy becomes clearer, estimates suggest that delayed action may ironically have reduced prosperity as well as cost lives. 

Scientists are not inventing the threats of catastrophic climate change or of mass extinction. These threats are real and they are upon us.

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