Political leaders make the case for climate change.

“Let someone else praise you, and not your own mouth; an outsider, and not your own lips.”– Proverbs 27:2 (NIV)

Yesterday’s LOTRW post closed noting that geoscientists and their engineering and social-science colleagues currently confront a dilemma. In the face of the covid-19 crisis, how to tug at the sleeves of beleaguered policymakers, make the case that global change is a bigger problem still – an existential challenge, with multiple such pandemic-sized problems embedded in it? How to make a compelling argument that global change merits continuing attention and action even in the midst of the current worldwide disruption and dismay? How to do this without coming across as hopelessly insensitive to the needs of today, self-absorbed and clueless, jealous, and/or shrill?

(The answer? While we’re thus preoccupied, perplexed about what to do, we look up and notice, to our surprise and relief, that the world’s national and global leaders are, unprompted, making our case for us. Problem solved.) 

A few days ago, on Earth Day, the Washington Post video-streamed live a conversation between John Kerry (Democrat) and John Kasich (Republican) on Leading the Fight against Climate Change. You can find it here.

The current (April 25-May 1) issue of The Economist is running the first of a six-part series on the climate change. The entire May/June issue of Foreign Affairs, entitled The Fire Next Time, is devoted to the subject, including a notable article by two former Republican Secretaries of State, James Baker, and George Schultz, who argue that climate change is not simply an environmental risk but also a strategic opportunity. The same issue contains a piece by John Podesta and Todd Stern, who ran the Obama climate-change portfolio. They make proposals that would reestablish America’s international leadership in the face of the challenge..

Then there’s the op-ed from Antonio Guterres, the secretary general of the United Nations, published in this morning’s New York Times: A Time to Save the Sick and Rescue the Planet. He makes a strong case for tackling both covid-19 and climate change simultaneously. Some excerpts:

The Covid-19 pandemic is the biggest test the world has faced since World War II. There is a natural tendency in the face of crisis to take care of one’s own first. But true leadership understands that there are times to think big and more generously. Such thinking was behind the Marshall Plan and the formation of the United Nations after World War II. This is also such a moment. We must work together as societies and as an international community to save lives, ease suffering and lessen the shattering economic and social consequences of Covid-19.

The impact of the coronavirus is immediate and dreadful. We must act now and we must act together. Just as we must act together to address another urgent global emergency that we must not lose sight of — climate change. Last week, the World Meteorological Organization released data showing that temperatures have already increased 1.1 degrees centigrade above preindustrial levels. The world is on track for devastating climate disruption from which no one can self-isolate

Addressing climate change and Covid-19 simultaneously and at enough scale requires a response stronger than any seen before to safeguard lives and livelihoods. A recovery from the coronavirus crisis must not take us just back to where we were last summer. It is an opportunity to build more sustainable and inclusive economies and societies — a more resilient and prosperous world.

Secretary-General Guterres then goes on to propose six “climate-positive actions:”

  • As we spend trillions to recover from Covid-19, we must deliver new jobs and businesses through a clean, green transition. Investments must accelerate the decarbonization of all aspects of our economy.
  • Where taxpayers’ money rescues businesses, it must be creating green jobs and sustainable and inclusive growth. It must not be bailing out outdated polluting, carbon-intensive industries.
  • Fiscal firepower must shift economies from gray to green, making societies and people more resilient through a transition that is fair to all and leaves no one behind.
  • Looking forward, public funds should invest in the future, by flowing to sustainable sectors and projects that help the environment and climate. Fossil fuel subsidies must end and polluters must pay for their pollution.
  • The global financial system, when it shapes policy and infrastructure, must take risks and opportunities related to climate into account. Investors cannot continue to ignore the price our planet pays for unsustainable growth.
  • To resolve both emergencies, we must work together as an international community. Like the coronavirus, greenhouse gases respect no boundaries. Isolation is a trap. No country can succeed alone.

This sample, though admittedly small and biased, offers comfort. It hints that world leaders, including ours, are not myopically reacting only to the present distress. They’re multi-tasking. They retain situational awareness of longer-term aspirations and needs. They preferentially select those short-term options and fixes that at the same time ratchet governments, corporations, and peoples toward desired larger ends.

They’re doing their jobs? This frees scientists to do what we do best – gather evidence, collect data, build and test hypotheses and models, improve forecasts, and support policymakers as they do the sifting through alternative policies and actions. We needn’t over-anxiously attempt to take politics into our own (clumsy) hands… and politicians don’t need to boast about their scientific chops. (Most) politicians and (most) scientists alike acknowledge the wisdom of Proverbs 27:2 – something we’ve “always known,” most likely drilled into us by mom and dad. 

Let others be your advocates.

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