Economy

We felt just as much urgency about climate change

We could not ignore it around the turn of the year: predictions about a new one imminent roaring twenties after we are all vaccinated. Such foresight should have a hopeful effect, but rather lead to a feeling of fatalism for me.

Because although climate change is regularly discussed, none of the predictions express the necessary urgency about two urgent existential threats. And this while the consequences of climate change and the loss of biodiversity are many times greater than those of the current pandemic.

In 2021 we therefore need activist scientists who make us realize that we cannot spend this decade partying, but rather remain in crisis mode.

The past year has shown us that both policymakers and citizens are capable of a great deal in the event of a visible threat. Shocking images of corpses on the street in Italy and overcrowded Dutch hospitals resulted in drastic lockdown measures and unanimity among the Dutch population.

International cooperation quickly resulted in several useful vaccines. And we took for granted the unprecedentedly severe economic crisis, as well as the rapidly rising national debt. After all, the enormous support packages from the government for households and companies were absolutely necessary, as every news item showed us again.

However, we are much less willing to make sacrifices for threats that are less visible and more difficult to grasp. Then the so-called optimism bias in effect: the tendency of man to underestimate the seriousness of a situation. Especially when the consequences are not very tangible and far from the bed.

In general, this bias comes in handy; without it, we would worry about all sorts of things beyond our control. But for existential threats that can only be prevented through acute and vigorous human intervention, this natural defense mechanism is a major problem.

Last week, seventeen leading scientists published a sobering research report. In the report we read that the consequences of climate change and loss of biodiversity are even more dangerous than is currently generally assumed. The consequences are so great that even experts find it difficult to comprehend its magnitude.

This makes us think: if it is already difficult for experts to handle, how should policymakers and citizens be able to do this? This therefore touches on the message of the scientists: as long as we cannot comprehend the scale of a threat, the measures taken will always fall short. So it all starts with creating more understanding, from which a sense of urgency must then flow.

But who, then, should foster this awareness and the accompanying sense of urgency? Science should make itself heard much more, the seventeen scientists argue. I totally agree. Scientists should close the gap between policymakers and civil action groups.

Research shows that activist movements such as Extinction Rebellion are very effective in bringing about political change with relatively few people. However, these kinds of movements are often not taken seriously, partly due to ignorance within the movement.

Scientists could be of service here: only their presence will increase the legitimacy of a movement with the general public, and with their knowledge and skills, scientists can also steer on content and organization and serve as spokespersons in the media.

Broader, all experts with a platform should make themselves heard more, in order to create a sense of urgency. Only in this way can truly proportional actions be enforced.

Hence my good resolution for 2021: to create a better understanding of the magnitude of the consequences of the climate and biodiversity crisis, first of all within myself. Through this column you will automatically notice how my sense of urgency is doing.

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