Here’s who I’m cheering for

There’s no race for the cure for climate change

By Linda Pentz Gunter

We are saturated with information about Covid-19, which has killed an estimated 200,000 people worldwide. That’s less than the annual death toll due to climate change. Why doesn’t that get an equivalent emergency response? And shouldn’t we be applauding those like the Amazon guardians, also risking their lives to save us all?

It’s my congressman on the phone again. Or is it my county council rep? Either way, they are calling to invite me to yet another telephone town hall in which I will learn the latest details — updated from the call a few days ago — on how to protect myself from Covid-19, help the less fortunate in my community, respond to the possible reopening of businesses and services, hear about tests and vaccines in the works, and so on.

I am being educated to the hilt everywhere I turn. Almost every news article or broadcast segment is about Covid-19 or something closely related to it. Are we still in a presidential election cycle? I’m not sure. Are we worried about Russian interference in the next election? No, we are worried about whether there will even be a next election.

My elected officials are saturating their constituents with care, advice and resources. Which is all good. Because the novel coronavirus has already killed more than 200,000 of us around the world — an undoubted underestimate — and a number which will only keep climbing for the time being. But a number which, hopefully sometime soon, will also start to diminish.

That won’t be true with climate change which is already killing as many as 250,000 people a year says a 2014 World Health Organization report , but likely far more, according to more recent research.

Writing in the New England Journal of Medicine, Andy Haines and Kristie Ebi said the WHO number represent, “a conservative estimate, because it does not include deaths from other climate-sensitive health outcomes and does not include morbidity or the effects associated with the disruption of health services from extreme weather and climate events.”

This means that climate change — or, more accurately, the climate pandemic — is already a bigger a threat to human mortality than Covid-19. But my congressmen are not calling me every other day about the climate crisis, with tips on how to live more sustainably and help others to do so as well.

Russell Watkins:Department for International Development

Climate change-caused malnutrition will become an ever growing crisis and cause of deaths in the hundreds of thousands. (Photo: Russell Watkins/Department for International Development)

A new study published in The Lancet, looking at “The global and regional effects of future food production under climate change” said that, “by 2050, climate change will lead to per-person reductions of 3·2% (SD 0·4%) in global food availability, 4·0% (0·7%) in fruit and vegetable consumption, and 0·7% (0·1%) in red meat consumption. These changes will be associated with 529 000 climate-related deaths worldwide.”

The book, Shock Waves: Managing the Impacts of Climate Change and Poverty, published by the World Bank, estimates, “In the short run, rapid, inclusive, and climate-informed development can prevent most (but not all) consequences of climate change on poverty. Absent such good development, climate change could result in an additional 100 million people living in extreme poverty by 2030.”

Haines, one of the NEJM authors, said in January that “”It is an urgent task to understand how to safeguard health in the face of these dramatic trends, all of which are caused by human activities related to patterns of economic activity.”

Somehow, though, this task has not in fact been considered nearly as urgent as understanding how to safeguard health in the face of Covid-19.

We all effectively have the climate crisis virus right now. We are not going to get over it and it’s too late to prevent it. But we are not getting webinars, and town halls, and zoom conferences and saturation news reports on how to tackle climate change and how to stop it from getting worse.

We aren’t cheering from our balconies every night for those indigenous leaders in the Amazon getting murdered for trying to protect the last vestiges of Mother Earth’s lungs.

Chico Mendes

A protest remembering an early martyr to guardianship of the Amazon, rainforest, Chico Mendes, assassinated in 1988. (Photo: Andre Luiz Moreira/Shutterstock)

I was going to write this week that feelings of despair, disillusion and hopelessness are not really the fillip that is needed right now to spring into action — virtual or otherwise — to save ourselves from our otherwise inevitable extinction. But if you are an environmentalist, or even just a thoughtful human being, that is exactly how the new documentary, Planet of the Humans,  now screening on YouTube, might make you feel. If you didn’t do a fact check first.

Director Jeff Gibbs, who channels his famous executive producer, Michael Moore, in every word of his narration, posits an obvious and largely acceptable thesis: that our runaway growth has become unsustainable; that when big business gets its fingers into the renewable pie, the likely outcome is business-as-usual malpractice; and that we must expect our environmental leaders to be transparent and uncorrupted. But he executes a sort of hip-shot sins-of-omission propaganda film to convince us that we were deluded and misled on renewables.

Timmon Wallis, writing on the Films for Action website, has done an excellent job of pointing out the fallacies in Planet of the Humans, armed with the actual, and current facts, which the filmmakers either didn’t know or deliberately cherry-picked out. Scott Johnson, in Ars Technica is yet more critical, and even George Monbiot, strong on climate but bizarrely off course in his pro-nuclear evangelism, had this to say to Moore on Twitter: “Michael, it’s time to recognise that this film is a complete crock, that’s doing nothing but harm to your excellent and well-deserved reputation. It’s crammed with gross distortions and outright falsehoods. Please take it down and start again.”

Gibbs may be the man with “The End is Nigh” sandwich board writ large. I prefer a more proactive approach. What choice do we really have? We need to explore every avenue possible to sound the drumbeat on what is happening to our planet and what we can all do about it.

Realizing that the path to savings ourselves is long, and arduous and that we got started way too late is not an excuse to park the car (electric or otherwise) and get out.

We do not yet know if there will be a return to normality post-Covid-19, or even if there will be a post-Covid era. But we do know that there will be no return to normality on climate change. We should be mounting a public outreach campaign on at least an equal if not greater scale than the one we are seeing on Covid-19. 

I hope my political leaders will keep calling me. I want them to tell me — and all of their constituents — how to keep our carbon footprints as low as possible; how to support a genuine Green New Deal that won’t be a bonanza for the same corporate polluters Gibbs fingers in his film;  where to buy local produce or even how to grow it. These are little steps. But everyone doing a little turns into a lot.

Headline photo by David Tong / WWF-New Zealand @davidxvx 

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