Enemy Within

Friday 17th of April 2020

I’ve already begun to write about topics which I am linking with climate change, although they have emerged from thinking about the coronavirus pandemic. When talking about the coronavirus, there has been much reporting of “defeating” the virus. I’m not sure that this always makes a lot of sense, but it illustrates how this crisis is broadly seen. An enemy has to be vanquished, however much that enemy is as good as invisible. It being at a microscopic level makes it somewhat intangible as a foe, even though we are familiar as human beings with much else which can only be identified at that level causing us significant harm.
Although in a different way, temperature is just as invisible as a virus. It is not so much temperature in itself that causes problems for human beings but its effects. In climate change we are dealing with a small rise in global temperature, but the potential effects of this are catastrophic. As with the spread of the coronavirus, much depends on (mathematical) modelling. This means both that a number of assumptions have to be made and also that small changes can have effects which seem out of proportion to the changes.
With the spread of the coronavirus, the number of people that one individual who already has the virus may infect and how quickly the virus can spread over just a few days make an enormous difference to the progress through a population of the virus. With climate change, slight changes in temperature can affect weather systems, intensity of rainfall (or indeed a lack of it) and sea levels significantly. There is also the knock-on effect on wildlife, crops and human life which are difficult to predict exactly.
I wonder if having had this experience with the coronavirus may increase the amount of openness to take climate change or, more specifically, combatting climate change in a serious manner. We have had the difficulty historically that climate change is not an “enemy” in any traditional sense. It is actually even more complicated than that, for it is extremely problematic for us to see the climate on a planet which is our home as an “enemy”. That is especially the case when the climate offers us many benefits, many of them indirectly through the planet’s flora and fauna which have developed hand in hand with that climate itself. (If we are going to take seriously the idea of an enemy, then we need also to look at the extent to which we human beings are our own enemy - always assuming that we are able accept that climate change is caused by us - but I don’t wish to go down that road at the moment).
Seeing what has happened around the coronavirus has brought me to a point where I have begun to have a sense that the fact that the (negative) impact of climate change is not fully acknowledged or that it cannot be turned into an out-and-out enemy have made it more difficult for us as a whole society to take it seriously (however much some individuals or groups have been trying to make this point for decades). So too has the way that the complexity of the effects of the physical changes make them difficult to pin down (paralleling in some way the science of epidemiology in relation to virus spread). The growth in the effects of climate change can so easily seem even more subtle than the spread of a virus. What has forced us to take the coronavirus seriously is the statistic of how many people have died and continue to die. However macabre it may seem, my hope is that we will take the need to act in relation to climate change sufficiently seriously to proceed without needing to wait until scientists and statisticians are able to offer conclusive proof of how many people have been killed by climate change.