Prof. Dr. Julia Hartmann
What do the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change have in common?
Both the COVID-19 (or corona) pandemic and climate change share a few similarities. Both are global problems, i.e. they do not affect people in a restricted area but people all over the world. Both have long-lasting effects on the economy and on society. And the extent of the consequences to both is not yet fully apprehended.
Because of these shared patterns, it is not surprising that there are quite a few similarities in how people react to these crises. Consider COVID-19: Most European governments seek to slow down the spreading of the virus by restricting social life with more and more drastic measures. The goal is to prevent the collapse of European health care systems. And yet, we continue to hear reports of people convening in larger groups for a picnic or a chat in a café. In times when we need to constrain social interactions, such behavior is clearly counterproductive.
Why do people continue to behave ‘as usual’ and ignore problems of global scale – be it COVID-19 or climate change? The fundamental underlying mechanism is fear – fear of the unknown. This primary instinct helps us not to panic and, in this respect, fear fulfills an important social function.
Yet, this also tells us that individuals on their own and on a global scale will be unable to combat global crises (COVID-19 or climate change). Rather, they need help in order to overcome them. They need clear prescriptions from governments. Certain behavior must be contained and compliance needs to be enforced.
This does not happen for punishment of the individual but for the best of our world’s societies. What we learn from the corona crisis will enable us to deal with climate change, too.
So, keep the spirit, stay healthy, stay safe!