Can we flatten the climate curve?

Can we flatten the climate curve?


Covering Climate NowThis article originally appeared in GreenBiz is republished here as part of UP' Magazine's partnership with Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 400 selected media outlets to strengthen news coverage of climate change.


What a great learning moment we are currently living! The coronavirus crisis brings us a lot of experiences that we could learn from. We have learned about the "flattening of the curve" of the pandemic. Why not take advantage of this experience and the concepts that emerged from it to improve and strengthen our actions against the climate crisis?

We simply learn from experience. Almost every new skill or knowledge we acquire is based in part on what we already know or have experienced. In the classroom, experiential learning differs from rote or didactic learning in that students play a more active role in the process rather than just memorizing things.

Contextually, experiential learning allows us to determine what to do with the knowledge we acquire. It is also additive: the more we experience, the more we can learn. There is no practical limit to the amount or type of information that can be absorbed and internalized.

In this context, what a great learning moment we are currently experiencing!

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It is difficult to estimate the amount of experience we are having right now and what we are learning as a result.It is difficult to estimate the amount of experience we are having right now and what we are learning as a result: what it is like to be isolated from the rest of society. How to think about the common good while protecting our own well-being and self-interest. How to think about a problem simultaneously on a personal, community, national and global scale. What it is like to be part of a problem that none of us can control, including government at the highest level, but which cannot be solved without everyone playing their part.

Much has already been written about what the coronavirus pandemic means for climate change - how billions of individual actions affect global problems and their solutions, for example, or the importance of listening to scientists and other experts rather than fundamentalists and ideologues.

We are also discovering the formidable capacity of disease vectors to spread and infect rapidly. We are learning what it means to be resilient in the face of massive disruption. We learn how to live with a clear and present danger while keeping a cool head and looking forward to the day when all will be over.

And, in the middle of all this, we learn the notion of "flattening the curve".

Can we flatten the climate curve?

The pandemic is just a dress rehearsal for life in a changing climate. Admittedly, this is a fatalistic perspective that I prefer not to dwell on. Rather, I am inspired by what we are learning about how to act quickly and in a concerted manner in the face of a catastrophic global problem, to ensure that we can mitigate its worst consequences.

I probably don't need to explain the graph above. It is a transposition of the now well-understood concept of distributing the effects of a public health crisis so that those who are there to help - health professionals, first responders, political leaders, community groups - can deal with the crisis in a sustainable and orderly fashion.

This notion may be oversimplified by this visualization, but it sends a clear and blunt message: act now or else.

This reflection raises a question: can we extend the "flattening the curve" theme to climate change and make it as ubiquitous and accepted as it is for coronavirus?

There are several reasons why the flattening of the climate curve is a useful, though imperfect, pattern:

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It's simple to understand, especially after the experience of the pandemic: the more we can control the uncontrollable, the better we will be able to adapt and cope with the impacts.

It is a shared experience, which everyone must work on to deal with the crisis.

This is a great idea that we can follow at any time to see if we are going far enough, fast enough.

It creates a framework for a wide range of solutions, from personal habits and policy changes to transformational technologies and new business systems.

It does not necessarily relate to a particular industry or human activity, but leaves it to us to determine, individually and collectively, what needs to be done.

It suggests that we - every family, every neighbourhood and every community - must have a plan in place to deal with various scenarios and be ready to implement it.

It clearly shows that early action will help to alleviate later problems.

Differences and disadvantages

Of course, there are big differences between the climate curve and the pandemic curve. The pandemic has been sudden and will undoubtedly be limited in time: it apparently came out of nowhere and will eventually come to an end, although many things are likely to be different after it has started. With climate, everyone knows that the impacts are coming - they are already there. And while most of these impacts will be relatively moderate for a while, they will eventually become severe and persistent, and could last for a century or more.

We will have to be wary of the potential drawbacks of propagating this pattern of curve flattening. When people come out of the water once the pandemic has subsided, they are likely to be resistant to the warning signs of another so-called emergency, especially if its effects are far from negligible. They may be so fed up with recent inconveniences - social distancing, mask and toilet paper wars and all the rest - that another directive or mission to "flatten the curve" may be perceived as cynical or even outright hostile.

Nevertheless, we must keep the idea in mind and even seize the opportunity, building as much as possible on this common experience. Despite all the detailed scientific knowledge on climate, we have not yet found effective communication on this subject capable of countering the myths and misinformation that have frustrated most attempts to engage the public on the climate crisis and to push them into action.

Can we make it happen? Should we? I'd like your opinion.

Joel MakowerPresident and Editor-in-Chief of GreenBiz Group Inc, producer of, and lead author of the annual State of Green Business Report. A seasoned journalist with more than 40 years of experience, he also hosts the annual GreenBiz forums, the VERGE global event series and other events. He is the author of more than a dozen books, most recently "The New Grand Strategy" (St. Martin's Press).

Nous avons un message pour vous…

En octobre dernier nous avons pris l’engagement que UP’ Magazine accordera au dérèglement climatique, à l’extinction des espèces sauvages, à la pollution, à la qualité de notre alimentation et à la transition écologique l’attention et l’importance urgentes que ces défis exigent. Cet engagement s’est traduit par le partenariat de UP’ Magazine avec Covering Climate Now, une collaboration mondiale de 250 médias sélectionnés pour renforcer la couverture journalistique des enjeux climatiques.

Nous promettons de vous tenir informés des mesures que nous prenons pour nous responsabiliser à ce moment décisif de notre vie. La désinformation sur le climat étant monnaie courante, et jamais plus dangereuse qu’aujourd’hui, il est essentiel que UP’ Magazine publie des rapports précis et relaye des informations faisant autorité – et nous ne resterons pas silencieux.

Notre indépendance éditoriale signifie que nous sommes libres d’enquêter et de contester l’inaction de ceux qui sont au pouvoir. Nous informerons nos lecteurs des menaces qui pèsent sur l’environnement en nous fondant sur des faits scientifiques et non sur des intérêts commerciaux ou politiques. Et nous avons apporté plusieurs modifications importantes à notre expression éditoriale pour que le langage que nous utilisons reflète fidèlement, mais sans catastrophisme, l’urgence environnementale.

UP’ Magazine estime que les problèmes auxquels nous sommes confrontés dans le cadre de la crise climatique sont systémiques et qu’un changement sociétal fondamental est nécessaire. Nous continuerons à rendre compte des efforts des individus et des communautés du monde entier qui prennent courageusement position pour les générations futures et la préservation de la vie humaine sur terre. Nous voulons que leurs histoires inspirent l’espoir.

Nous espérons que vous envisagerez de nous soutenir aujourd’hui. Nous avons besoin de votre soutien pour continuer à offrir un journalisme de qualité, ouvert et indépendant. Chaque abonnement des lecteurs, quelle que soit sa taille, est précieux. Soutenez UP’ Magazine à partir d’1.90 € par semaine seulement – et cela ne prend qu’une minute. Merci de votre soutien.

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