Opinion: Climate change, COVID, and changing our behavior

FILE PHOTO: Smoke and steam billows from Belchatow Power Station, Europe’s largest coal-fired power plant operated by PGE Group, near Belchatow
REUTERS/Kacper Pempe

Human beings are much better at reacting to short-term stimuli than long-term stimuli. So you’ve maybe heard about frogs being boiled to death by being placed in a pot of cool water where the temperature is slowly raised. If you were to just throw them right in the boiling pot, they’d be able to jump out to safety.

You’re probably familiar with some movies and TV shows about zombies. At first the zombies are rumors, they are normally caused by some sort of human meddling, but then the characters realize they are real.

We have all had to change our whole lives because of COVID-19. That occurred quickly and then settled in, month after month. In an hour this Wednesday we saw protestors storm the country’s Capitol.

So change occurs at different speeds, but the biggest and most important change of all is climate change — and maybe the events of the last four years have finally prepared us to keep making the big changes. 

I recently listened to the May 31, 2020 episode of The Generation Anthropocene podcast, which was about climate change and zombies.

 The guest was University of Tampa scholar Sarah Juliet Lauro, a zombie expert.

“Geologic time and the anthropocene: all of this is happening but it’s happening too slowly for us to really feel as terrified of it as we need to be. I think that the zombie is like a time-lapse vision of what we’re doing anyway. Maybe it’s not that the dead are going to come back to life but it is in effect that what we have done now is we have made all of ourselves ‘The Walking Dead’ because we are becoming extinct,” Lauro said. “We have done this to ourselves.”

“That’s where COVID is actually offering us this opportunity to really see what it would be like if we could all recognize a disaster unfolding in real-time, and act accordingly. I don’t know that we’re going to rise to the challenge. That’s for me what the zombie has always been about: this dress rehearsal for catastrophe, if you can be smart enough to recognize it for what it is.”

“These zombie movies normally don’t end very well,” host Mike Osborne observed. 

“Yes, but Fear can be our friend,” Lauro replied. “What’s getting us into a situation that’s completely untenable for our planet is not the base instinct of fear but the base instinct of greed. And if we can channel a good kind of fear — a fear that we are actually rendering ourselves extinct, and destroying this planet — into a good kind of action, then we can use fear to surmount the greed of a certain segment of the population and then we will bring about real change.”

Amen, sister.