Media Blog What an Emergency Looks Like In the case of coronavirus, despite some amount of confusion, at least we now know what an emergency response looks like. Last year the UK Government declared a climate emergency. Fairly soon afterwards, Scotland’s First Minister, and most local authorities, most universities and many other institutions followed suit. But it is not clear that anything has actually changed as a consequence. And yet here we are in the midst of a different sort of emergency – a pandemic – and there is not an aspect of our lives untouched by the coronavirus, and in fairly radical ways. The difference between coronavirus and climate change is that the virus requires us to separate, to isolate and to pull apart. It may increase empathy and force us to rethink some of our behaviours, but if we are not careful, it may also inflame division and inequality. Climate change on the other hand requires us to come together and pull in the same direction. In fact, I would go so far as to say that climate change is our best opportunity to bring people back together and work towards a shared goal. As the shock waves of this pandemic crash through our society and force us to rethink our comfortable habits, I hope we can keep an eye on the future we want to build towards, the future we want to emerge from this chaos. Maybe we will be challenged to reconsider what we value, and what really matters. Do we want to fund airlines or the health service? And will we finally realise that inequality is unsustainable? This pandemic was scientifically predictable and has been forecast for many years. Scientifically speaking, any large population will eventually have to deal with a new virus. We have known one was coming, we just weren’t sure what and when. It has caused huge disruption, unprecedented in my lifetime certainly, but its shock waves are likely to be relatively short term. Hopefully at some point in the next 4-18 months much of this should settle down and the world can move on, although the economic reverberations will continue for much longer. Like the pandemic, climate change is also scientifically predictable. However, whilst climate action has the ability to bring us together rather than tear us apart, if we do not begin to tackle it seriously, it is likely to be far more disruptive than a single virus – and its impacts will be both far more profound and much longer lasting. There is a commonly held sense from many people I talk to, that surely if the science of an issue is known and well understood, and predictions are that bad, then the Government will and should do the right thing. Some Governments, of course, just don’t want to, but even those that do, will not and cannot if we don’t let them. Let’s get through this current crisis as best we can. But when the dust starts to settle, we need to take stock – to learn from this experience. And to see it as a stark warning of the fragility of so much that we take for granted. And an incentive to do better. If we are going to respond to these existential threats, like coronavirus, and more worryingly climate change, then we need an urgent transition away from our outdated Victorian political and economic models which we are continuing to drive to breaking point and beyond, like a broken old engine belching out fumes and cutting out intermittently. We need a new, modern, more enlightened and sustainable model to guide our decision making in the future. This might be the only positive legacy we have to show for this awful outbreak. And if we don’t learn from this situation, we risk a much greater disruption from climate change in the not too distant future. Douglas Adams was famously quoted as saying once that, "Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so.” I hope for the sake of our future that he was wrong.