Coronavirus and climate change are the two greatest crises of these years. Much larger than any other natural e.g. tsunami and man-made catastrophic events e.g. wars or 9/11. In the onset of coronavirus, many climate change activists compared the two and encouraged people to fight against climate change the same way they fight against coronavirus i.e. unity in fighting the crises along with the authorities. Now, after the first wave of coronavirus was controlled in Canada, deeper data and research reveals new insights on how these two crises are correlated.
After the outbreak of coronavirus, it was believed that the virus is more dangerous for elder people with pre-existing conditions. Now we know that this is not an accurate statement. But the natural outcome of this statement was overconfidence among the youth. This was hardly corrected even after later statements by governments and the World Health Organization (WHO). A survey shows that 16-24 year-olds have low/limited concerns about coronavirus compared to people older than 55. Human beings are diverse in the way they absorb and process data. Some of these data are being filtered even before being processed by our brain while some others are processed but differently for each one of us. Affect heuristic is the capacity we have to make decisions and solve problems based on our feeling rather than logic. Affect heuristic can be easily impaired by biases. This is what happened with the initial message about coronavirus. Many young people made decisions, which was not the best but it was because of this bias and improper usage of the affect heuristic. Later attempts to correct the perception about the virus and the fact that there would be no age/race/sex discrimination was not as efficient as it should have been because of a mental statement called psychological numbing. There is also a tendency in human beings’ psychological systems to filter out undesirable news as much as possible. This optimism bias works to keep us in a good mood. A part of the resistance to accept many facts about coronavirus is due to this powerful bias.
What can be learned from this debate that helps climate change fight?
Climate change messages – unintentionally – created some biases. Stereotypical hungry polar bears, although very impressive, caused some misconceptions. Many people believe that climate change is a problem in the north, which is wrong. Climate change affects the Earth in a non-uniform manner i.e. with different rates in different locations. Another misrepresentation about climate change is this being a future problem. This is wrong too! Each year, thousands of people around the world lose their lives and properties because of climate change. Nowadays, climate change affects everybody during their life.
For climate change fighting to be efficient, these biases have to be corrected. Clear communication and more accurate messages are needed to be disseminated. It is also important to emphasize the destructive consequences of climate change, the necessity of sustainable development, and the fact that despite uncertainties, almost all scientists believe it to be a real and man-made problem. This prevents the optimism bias of thinking that the problem is being exaggerated and is too poorly understood to care about. Once the mindset of people is ready to absorb and properly digest climate change messages, they will be ready to join the climate change campaign, just as they joined the campaign to fight coronavirus in Canada.