What the Coronavirus pandemic revealed about our ability to deal with crises (slight optimism)

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March 26, 2020 by Cláudia

History shows us that Humankind has the uncanny ability to be resilient in times of unprecedented crisis – epidemics, wars, economic crashes. Covid-19 has certainly proven to be dramatic, showing the fragility of social security and national health service (in the countries where there is one). While at first I was sceptical about whether the virus outbreak was as serious as the media were making it, I am now fully convinced it is at least as serious as it is portrayed. It’s getting hard to find the silver linings. While some people are working from home and rediscovering themselves, not everyone can have the luxury to embark on this self-discovery journey. Thousands will be unemployed. If we were already moving in the direction of an economic crisis, now we are gliding towards it at full speed.

Yet, this crisis has given me some information that has left me slightly more optimistic about the future. Even if so very slightly.

History shows us many incidences in which dramatic change was possible in response to a threat or a catastrophe. But I had never lived a moment like that, the amount of change we need started to seem too overwhelming and I was slowly resigning myself to the idea that it was simply not going to happen. I never stopped acting. I kept organizing and participating in pressure groups. But, little by little, my honest belief that change was possible was fading. We are not any closer to tackling the climate crisis today than we were ten years ago. Governments are still protecting corporate interests, instead of our sustainability as a species.

But now here we are, dealing with a public health pandemic and, despite some faulty and insufficient responses, I find myself slightly more energetic and hopeful. I am left with hope because I have renewed faith in our collective ability to produce real change. To be bold. To demand an ambitious plan that leaves no one behind. To finally put people before profit.

Why exactly did this pandemic leave me slightly more optimistic about our collective ability to deal with the present and future climate catastrophe?

Here’s what this pandemic tells us about our collective ability to deal with crises, disproving all the excuses to not deal with the climate crisis effectively.

People are more than willing to make sacrifices and change their lifestyle as long as they understand the risk.

As it turns out, Humanity is not an uncritical mass. We are sensible. We are capable of change. If the media were constantly updating us on the climate crisis related deaths, scientific predictions, political inefficacy, people would without a doubt act accordingly and demand the change that we need to ensure a livable future.

Governments are capable of fast and effective action.

If they feel like there is no choice. One month ago, it was completely unthinkable that the government would subsidize people to stay home, build new hospitals or to turn cosmetic companies into something of public use. Yet that reality now. Whether due to true concern for the people’s or to fear of general outrage, (most) governments are actually taking action.

When the situation is an emergency, money is not an obstacle.

While society is operating on a business-as-usual pace, social and ecological change is often deemed unrealistic or too expensive. When the situation is an emergency, however, some of the ideas that were deemed unrealistic are no longer seen as so. Rather, they are immediately put into practice as the only sensible thing to do. The argument that there is not enough budget to put something into practice actually has nothing to do with the amount of available budget. It has much more to do with where the issue ranks in the priority list. Saying there is not enough money to embark on a just transition to a low carbon society means that it hasn’t yet been a priority. Not that it can’t be done.

The media have an almost omnipotent power to build our perception of reality.

We don’t perceive most of the world’s happenings first-hand. The media modulate them for us. And they have the power to suddenly turn everyone’s attention to a particular issue. Imagine if most people in the world understood exactly how threatening and all-encompassing the climate crisis is. Imagine if we weren’t allowed to forget. To dissociate. To minimize the danger. We would not allow governments to do anything other than deal with it with ambition and no excuses.


“In times of crisis, seemingly impossible ideas suddenly become possible.”

Naomi Klein

Crises are an opportunity to rethink society. Everything is falling apart: the economy, our lifestyle, our health system. Everything is falling apart, so let’s build something new.

We’re still extremely far from winning against corrupt governments and powerful corporations. We’re probably as far as we’ve ever been to tackling climate change. But there’s a breach in the system. It’s showing its unpreparedness to deal with global threats. And it’s showing that systemic change is possible.

Let’s take this opportunity to fight for the change that we know to be both necessary and possible. Let’s get to work!

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