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COVID 19 MAY BE THE BOILING FROG WE NEED (MAR20)

I remember referring to the boiling frogs analogy in speeches about 20 years ago.  Some of you may remember that it was used by Al Gore in An Inconvenient Truth to help us understand why the world is not doing enough to avert calamitous climate change.

If you put a frog into a pan of scalding water, it’s leaps out – and may well survive.  If you put one in a pan of cold water and let it slowly warm up, the frog stays put and dies.  It’s easy to see the parallels with climate change and a slowly warming planet – but have you thought that the global reaction to the pandemic is a collaborative attempt to emulate the frog leaping out of danger? 

The most recent edition of the Moral Maze quotes a ‘cynical’ politician saying ‘you should never let a serious crisis go to waste’.  It asks if this is the moment to re-think society.  I think it is.

I read an article a few days ago pointing out that the Coronavirus outbreak was an environmentalists dream.  Of course, it’s pretty unpalatable to look at the deadly toll of the disease attacking the old and vulnerable in a positive light. However, I was struck by a CNN article which speculated that the better air quality in China, as a result of the drastic measures they’ve taken could have saved between 50,000 and 75,000 people from dying prematurely.

Comparing Air quality in China from 2019 to 2020

Clearly, the turmoil that’s been created in response to Covid 19 goes far beyond the health impacts. Job losses, school children sent home, livelihoods destroyed, old people in isolation, cancelled holidays and the world economy crashing.  

We’re all facing our own personal dramas trying to work out how to salvage what we have, maintain relationships or help others with the decisions they face.  My step son-in-law has 5 tonnes of clotted cream to sell in China, with a limited shelf life and the hospitality industry in melt-down. I heard a lady on the radio talking about a cancelled trade fair meaning she couldn’t sell her model hedgehogs.  And, that’s just the tip of a very large iceberg. Two trivial examples in a tidal wave of angst. 

So let’s consider how the world can use the Corona crisis to come together as a global community with global solutions to tackle climate change. Scientists seem clear that its impact on our lives will be far worse than the current pandemic – and more long-term.  To date our reactions have been pitiful.  We’ve been tinkering around the edges.  Fundamentally, the world approach has been ‘business as usual’ with some attempts at reducing our impacts to ‘less bad’ as long as it doesn’t change things too much – and in particular, as long as it doesn’t damage the bottom line. 

Now is the time to change our thinking.  Come up with radical ideas for a global response to climate change.  Destroying our forests, plundering the earth, decimating biodiversity, creating choking smogs and above all embracing a lifestyle that crowns us as the most wasteful species on the planet. 

I haven’t got all the answers about what we should do.  But, I think now is the time to put our heads together (virtually, of course) and come up with a plan.  We need a circular economy, renewable energy, micro-power infrastructure, teleconferencing bonanza, a sharing society, car-free cities and so much more. 

Let’s make sure that the slowly warming frog learns from the hot one – and leaps out of the pan. The only way to do this is collectively. The time to do it is now.