Just add humans: the key to changing attitudes



It’s deadly, invisible and fast-moving, killing thousands and ruining economies. Sound familiar? I’m not talking about coronavirus, but rather the climate change emergency that is threatening life as we know it.

The coronavirus crisis as devastating as it is, has given us an opportunity to accelerate a shift towards a more sustainable future as we rebuild and reform economically. Lockdowns imposed due to the virus have led to a drastic reduce in emissions from cars, planes and manufacturers, and the UN has proposed climate-related actions to shape our recovery after the virus.

By delivering new jobs and businesses through a clean, green transition, use taxpayers’ money to achieve green jobs and sustainable growth, use money to make people and societies resilient to climate change, and invest in the future, not the past.

The coronavirus has proven to the world that it is possible for governments to enact immediate change in the wake of a life-threatening crisis, to adapt to working from home, to lower emissions. It proves that the threat of climate change is simply not concerning enough to policy-makers. Obviously, the industries that are affected by the lockdowns such as travel, manufacturing, gas and electricity are essential to society, so we need not ‘shut down’ these businesses but encourage them to adapt eco-friendly policies, packaging, transporting and to use alternative energy sources.

Images of clean canals in Venice and clear skies in China are showing people that is possible to see immediate effects of lowering emissions and human impact. However, in order to implement any of these changes in a post-coronavirus world we need people to actually care, we need to humanise climate change. Pictures of starving polar bears, melting ice caps and bulldozed forests are sad, but they don’t inspire a sense of urgency or motivate people to make a change. As Climate Visuals director Adam Corner says, “images without people in them are unable to tell a human story”.

Climate change is affecting human-kind now in every corner of the earth, and it’s only going to get worse unless immediate action is taken. But to describe climate change through a relatable lens we shouldn’t talk about the confusing science, or future deadlines, we need to talk about humans. Babies born today could grow up be adults living on a planet without an Arctic. Cities and islands could become uninhabitable, and weather more catastrophic. To further humanise the conversations about climate change consequences we should be talking about health. Air pollution caused by human activity increases the risk of heart and lung disease and respiratory issues, and already 91 per cent of the world’s population live in places where air quality exceeds the WHO guideline limits.

The WHO estimates that 4.2 million people die every year from exposure to air pollution. When people who have these pre-existing conditions and contract diseases like COVID-19, the flu or pneumonia they are likely to suffer from more serious symptoms.

If people believe and can see that climate change is threatening our lives already, we may have hope that we will be able to realign economic priorities and sustainable practices. The tasks of rebuilding after the coronavirus and tackling climate change are complex, but as history has taught time and time again, people are able to effect change at the highest level by caring, educating and protesting.

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