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Building a Post-Pandemic World Will Not Be Easy

Both the COVID-19 crisis and the climate crisis highlight the limits of humanity’s power over nature. But while both remind us that the Anthropocene epoch may jeopardize our continued existence, and that benign everyday behavior can result in catastrophic outcomes, such similarities must not obscure crucial differences.

PARIS – Die-hard green militants regard it as obvious: the COVID-19 crisis only strengthens the urgent need for climate action. But die-hard industrialists are equally convinced: there should be no higher priority than to repair a ravaged economy, postponing stricter environmental regulations if necessary. The battle has started. Its outcome will define the post-pandemic world.

Both the public-health crisis and the climate crisis highlight the limits of humanity’s power over nature. Both remind us that the Anthropocene epoch may end badly. And both teach us that benign everyday behavior can result in catastrophic outcomes.

Defying linear reasoning, the pandemic and climate change both force us to adapt to situations where a little more leeway results in a lot more damage. As the climate economist Gernot Wagner has noted, the pandemic in a sense replicates climate change at warp speed. This may explain why public opinion overwhelmingly considers global warming as serious a threat as COVID-19 and wants governments to emphasize climate action in the recovery.

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