Hi! I’m Sarah. Minimum Viable Planet is my weeklyish newsletter about climateish stuff, and how to keep it together in a world gone mad. I’m always curious to know what you think.
What are the parallels between climate and COVID? They’re numerous I think, but here are three biggies.
When I had my climate awakening, the world crumbled like an apple crisp. How was this horrible stuff happening without anyone doing anything or even talking about it? Over the years, many have had their climate awakenings, whether through Greta, or from noticing the changes in their own backyards, or from the occasional poetically terrifying feature that would creep into a mainstream lad magazine (this one remains vivid in my mind because of the beautiful title: The Ballad of the Sad Climatologists).
With COVID, it’s similar. See the family member on the group chat go from it’s NBD to checking the case stats hourly.
Why does any of it matter? Because we have to remember to welcome everyone to the band. I think my No. 1 takeaway from years of trying to bring people over to climate is that everyone can like the band and it’s never too late to start. COVID is a stadium band (are there such things any more?) and not an indie darling. The band doesn’t become uncool because more people like them, and it doesn’t matter that it took your aunt four years to understand the genius of the music. What matters is that your aunt is here, bopping her head arrhythmically to the music.
We need everyone fighting the climate crisis and everyone practicing physical distancing. As soon as someone has their awakening, you can welcome them with open arms (from 6 feet away).
I talk about discounting way too much, but it’s because discounting is why we eff up so many things. The less science-y term for hyperbolic discounting is present bias, but you might as well just call it Human Impatience. It just means that we prioritize the immediate. It’s literally in our DNA.
We discount everything. Even though a few dollars a few decades ago could have stopped climate change. Even though a few more dollars at the CDC a few years ago could have drastically improved American preparedness for this shitstorm.
I tried really hard to get one of my clients to let me do a campaign about discounting a few years ago. The government wanted to sell off a huge chunk of our hydro utility for what sounded like a large sum of money. But in 9 (measly!) years we would have made back the amount of money they’d sold it for. We would have had that revenue FOREVER. Needless to say, the campaign was a little too eggheady for public consumption, but if we could make salient the idea that we need to think about our long-term selves (and children’s selves) whenever possible, we could stop a lot of folly.
Amazing behavioural science initiatives play with this idea. Save More Tomorrow is a resoundingly successful campaign that helps people commit to, you guessed it, saving more tomorrow. Researchers have also used aging apps to get people to care about their future selves, not to mention to stop smoking, drinking, and eating garbage.
But with climate and COVID, we’ve lost our early-mover advantage. Unsurprisingly, the discounting curve and our case curve look remarkably similar.
We’re seeing what not taking early COVID precautions means in high speed. Maybe this will illuminate why we need to act as quickly as possibly to prevent the worst of climate catastrophe? (Not holding breath). In this great Atlantic piece, Ed Yong ponders all the places we could go from here. He writes that America has been trapped in a cycle of “panic and neglect,” but that perhaps a pandemic that touches all will stir the realization that everything needs to be very different.
Politicians are incentivized to think short-term. We need long-term thinking, at every level of life. Also, more dancing:
C + C both exacerbate inequality. The world was already growing epically unequal. Now, in an instant, COVID has bowled us snake eyes. People with stable jobs, security, and social capital will ride out the horror watching Netflix. People with no safety net will die. Climate crisis wreaks the same havoc; we just see it less.
The positive take (that I gently nudged at last week) is that we’ll realize that we are, all of us, on this planet together. That we’ll disrupt the worst of capitalism to reconstruct a better world for everyone. But given that humans are actually pitching the expendability of our elders in the name of the stock market, I’m 60/40 on this prospect. You?
I’ve taken comfort in seeing the amazing ways that people rally to remediate the deep inequality all around us. From baking bread for neighbours to giving up their ventilators.
I worked on a kibbutz for a year. Everyone was a little bit nuts, but everyone was also wonderful. I would not say our neighbourhood has gone full kibbutz, but I do love the pot-banging camaraderie of our already friendly street. Will we finally begin to know that, by working together, we can take care of everyone? The next months will be grim, but let’s hope for the best.
I heard Dr. Michael Gardam, a very thoughtful physician who is often called to opine on the radio here, say something helpful last week. He mentioned that every morning he wakes up optimistic because he knows we will get a little bit closer to figuring things out. It’s the most positive frame to have, and it gives me comfort when I wake up in the morning and flick on the radio.
I know everyone has been having their Zoom moments of companionship but a particularly favourite of mine came on Monday. I usually go to Dark Dancing, a communal DJ set at our local Owls Club, where we all dance in the dark. Of course, Dark Dancing, like everything else, has gone online. My little family tuned in to the livestream, and danced away our Monday night. I felt the anxiety dissipate for a few minutes.
Over the past few days people have begun to write the way forward, offering up ideas as to how we must use this moment in time to create a better future. Bill McKibben likens it to breaking a virus transmission (divesting is like cutting off a flow). Economists and policy advisers have begun to make suggestions about making the stimulus green. Masha Gessen writes of contextualizing the things we’re doing so they have a more positive impact. Will we think of basic income as just an easier way to pay people, or will we actually begin to value people for their humanity, and not just what they produce? As I said, I’m 60/40.
How do climate and COVID paint the future for you? LMK.
How are doing/what are you doing?
What am I doing? I told myself that if I can’t go to work I am going to turn my “dabbling” of healing myself (meditation, eating better, improved posture, a little exercise and walks) into my full time focus. So in between taking care of my toddler twins and grading college student papers and writing posts about fashion sustainability, I eat dark chocolate almonds and throw my shoulders back while cleaning the dishes. And trying to remember to stop holding my breath. Literally, not figuratively, though there’s that, too.
I’m working on a tapestry/fabric collage series of Rudyard Kipling Just So Stories. How the Leopard got his Spots is in progress. And yes I’m anxious. 75 didn’t seem so old a few months ago.
As far as how I am coping, I am making a corona virus "toy" that I can kick around when it all gets too much for me.
As always, stay cozy and safe.
Thanks for reading,