The Fight for Climate After Covid-19

On September 16th, 2022 the Yale Center for Environmental Communication hosted Alice Hill, the David M. Rubenstein Senior Fellow for Energy and the Environment at the Council on Foreign Relations. Drawing from her book “The Fight for Climate After Covid-19,”she discussed the necessary elements for climate preparedness and where the United States is along its preparedness journey. The talk was moderated by Dr. Jennifer Marlon, Senior Research Scientist and Lecturer at the Yale School of the Environment.

Key Takeaways Include:

  1. The Covid-19 pandemic offers crucial advice on how to handle disasters:
    1. Preparedness is key. Compare the experiences of South Korea to the United States during the Covid-19 pandemic. Using earlier and stricter lockdowns, and the rapid adoption of testing technology, South Korea fared much better than the US in terms of both Covid-19 cases and deaths.  
    2. Stockpiles and supply chains need to be rethought. Supply chains must be shortened, thickened, and strengthened, while critical supplies must be stockpiled with an expectation of disaster.
    3. Minorities suffer the most. Women, girls, and minorities all suffered deeply under Covid-19. When disasters strike in developing nations, women are often the first to be pulled out of school and the last to eat. They may even be sold into child marriages or trafficked into prostitution, especially in times of desperation. 
    4. Planning across borders is necessary. The US has over 4,000 governmental entities, from states to towns to school districts. Coordination across these entities is necessary for key climate preparedness measures like local insurance schemes. 
    5. The past is no indication of the future. Climate change will bring greater extreme weather events than humanity has ever seen. We can no longer rely on systems whose design choices were made in more stable ages. We must plan for an unstable climate and unfamiliar future.
  1. The US lacks a national climate adaptation plan. When extreme weather hits, repairs are long and costly. Yet research has shown that up to fifteen dollars are saved in repairs for every one dollar spent on preparedness. Building codes, land usage, economic investments, and infrastructure systems must consider climate adaptation if they are to be cost-effective in the face of a changing climate.
  2. “No one is safe until we are all safe.” Covid and climate both present a communication challenge – the distributed effects of the issues are both complicated and unpopular to address. Engaging with flat-out deniers is a lost cause when rigorous science is ignored. When communicating on issue-specific topics, it is best to use the other party’s self-interest. If it is necessary to increase the rigor of building codes against extreme weather, and there are protests that homes will be too expensive to build, one could point out it is less expensive to build a sound home than fix a ruined one. 
  3. Climate change preparedness touches all aspects of life, having conversations is necessary to inform each other of our own thoughts. Talking to neighbors or family members around the table allows us to understand each other and our collective will on climate issues. Polling has shown that people consistently underestimate how much others care about climate, dissuading these necessary conversations.