COVID-19 is a curse and a gift. Humanity has no choice about accepting the first. Staying at home, as personally frightening and economically damaging as it is, shows us the rewards we can earn if we stop relying on burning fossil fuels.
Google “COVID-19 air pollution before and after.” Look at the stunning photographs of clear skies in Kathmandu, New Delhi and Paris from CNBC. Watch Fox News Detroit’s video of baby sea turtles crawling across empty beaches. Consider Duke University scientist Stuart Pimm’s comment to the Associated Press: “It is giving us this quite extraordinary insight into how much of a mess we humans are making of this beautiful planet.”
Reasons for making the difficult decisions necessary to stop the effects of climate change are always posited in catastrophic terms: Change modern life, stop burning fossil fuels, slow global warming or die.
Big changes are hard. In his change management book titled “Teaching the Elephant to Dance,” James Belasco argues that organizations change only if and when they become convinced that they will die if they don’t.
Instead of avoiding horrible outcomes, this pandemic has exposed a picture of what success could look like. Get out of Mother Nature’s way and humans get back a beautiful home.
Closing down huge swaths of the global economy was unimaginable in February. With massive deaths the alternative, nations made big changes. Elephants learned to dance.
Humanity can take big, seemingly impossible actions to step away from fossil fuels. Dire warnings as motivation can be replaced with rewarding goals of a cleaner planet.
As constant reminders of those goals, wall-size images of clean air should be placed in city council chambers, statehouses and any place lobbyists gather. Unavoidable giant images of smog-free skylines and blue skies should dominate corporate boardrooms.
Humans are responsible for the climate impacts that threaten us. The only weapon we have to fight the virus that also threatens us, less human activity, proves that.
Returning to the old normal is the easy option. To earn the rewards of clean air, species survival and a sustainable future that we have been shown, we must insist on a new normal that does not include burning fossil fuels.