Can the pandemic serve as a model for tackling climate change?

Why we should value dissent and not just ‘follow the science’

Closing off dissent

In March 2020 lockdowns quickly became a received wisdom, as if they were a proven and established instrument. Governments left no doubt, most mainstream media across the Western world agreed and most of the people did. The impression was created that the scientific consensus was solid, and that only some right-wing scientists or conspiracy theorists disagreed. However, this was a false impression promoted by the media who apparently saw it as their duty to close ranks with governments in a situation of emergency. Since the very beginning, many scientists fundamentally disagreed with the main policy instruments applied during the pandemic, which were closure of businesses like shops and restaurants, school closures, stay-at-home orders and mask mandates.

Weaponising science

“Follow the science” is a mantra popularised in 2019 by Greta Thunberg and the Fridays for Future movement as a wakeup call to accuse the world leaders of acting too late to prevent catastrophic climate change. When the pandemic began, the same activists and many others joining the cause used the same catchphrase to defend a strict lockdown regime.

Submitting to a climate regime?

While a small minority of people still have doubts about the science of climate change and whether its effects should make us worry, the vast majority (especially in Europe) understand that humanity must reduce greenhouse gas emissions rather fast to avoid the worst catastrophic effects. As the sense of urgency has grown, the political conflict across the Western world has clearly shifted from ‘if to do something about climate change’ to ‘what to do about it’.

Learning the lessons of the pandemic

All this answers the question posed at the beginning of this essay: No, the pandemic doesn’t serve as a model for how to address climate change. If the pandemic has been the trial phase of the post liberal era, we should consider it as an instructive failure.

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Micha Narberhaus

Micha Narberhaus is a researcher, writer and founder of The Protopia Lab. protopialab.org. Twitter: @michanarberhaus