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Living Lightly column

Science must guide pandemic and climate response

By Lauriston Muirhead

The challenges of COVID19 and climate change are global in scale but also affect all our lives.  The two issues are having, and will continue to have, major effects on our health, our society and our economy.  Since many human lives are at stake in both situations it is important to learn from the similarities and differences.  There are more similarities than appear at first glance.

They are both natural in origin but because there are nearly eight billion of us and because of some aspects of our modern lifestyles they are both dramatically intensified.

Science can explain why and how both the virus and man-made climate change occur as well as which behaviours make them worse and which will reduce their respective impacts.

Scientists can “model” different scenarios (make informed predictive estimates) to help us choose which are the best ways forward or, to put it another way – the least worst pathways!

No amount of political bluster or spin has the slightest effect on the spread of destruction and outcomes of a killer virus or man-made climate change.  Only timely and effective action, informed by the best and latest science, can affect the courses and outcomes of the two catastrophes.

On January 22, 2020 a reporter asked President Trump whether there were “…worries about a pandemic”. He replied: “No, not at all.  We have it totally under control ……It’s going to be just fine.”  By Easter the US was recording approximately 2,000 deaths a day from the virus!  Politicians do not have a good track record of following scientific advice and yet science is the most reliable form of understanding reality that humans have developed.

Obviously there are major differences between the two challenges.  One of the greatest differences is that to control the virus, we have to do things which damage other aspects of life such as physical distancing, economic shut-downs etc.  Whereas to control man-made climate change involves a whole range of actions which actually make our lives and world much better – such as more sustainable agriculture and a rapid transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy – fossil fuels being polluting and finite; renewables being clean and ever-lasting.

Let’s choose our representatives by how effectively they act according to the science.