One is a virus unleashed from the wilderness, likely by people with mouths to feed and spread by others with planes to catch.

The second enemy is a molecule of heat-trapping gas -- methane and CO2 -- unleashed by people with mouths to feed and planes to catch.


Penn State climatologist Michael Mann says the peril of ignoring research has been put in stark relief by Covid.

1. Science denial can be deadly

The danger of ignoring science is the top lesson from Michael Mann, director of Penn State's Earth System Science Center. "By rejecting what the leading health scientists were telling us, the current administration's policies of inaction on Covid-19 have needlessly already cost us more than 100,000 lives," he said.

As the co-author of the famous "hockey stick graph," Mann was among the first to confirm how levels of heat-trapping pollution have jumped with the burning of fossil fuels. As a result, he's endured years of accusations, lawsuits and death threats -- even as his work was repeatedly confirmed by other scientists.

He sees a kindred spirit in Dr. Anthony Fauci, now facing similar attacks for simply speaking scientific truth to power. "If there is a silver lining, it is that the failure of the current administration to respond meaningfully to the pandemic lays bare the deadliness of ideologically motivated science denial," Mann said. "This applies to the even greater crisis of human-caused climate change and the need to treat it as the emergency it is."

2. The search for a cure is global but your chances of survival are local

In March, a group of governors joined a White House conference call, desperate for federal help in finding ventilators and PPE for their overflowing hospital ICUs. "Try getting it yourselves," Donald Trump replied. Those words not only squandered the unique power of the presidency to focus the nation's makers on a single mission, they also created the kind of frantic bidding wars between American states that can lead to corruption and waste.
Suddenly, a grandmother's life depended on the bargaining skills of a mayor or community health administrator.
The same dynamic is bound to play out as seas rise, mountains burn and economies shift. So until a vaccine -- or a decarbonized economy -- is discovered, the wisdom of neighbors, mayors and Main Streets could mean the difference between life and death.

3. Individual behavior saves lives but can't fix the problem

Social distancing and mask-wearing have taught us that the personal decision can save -- or cost -- human lives. But to fully eradicate Covid-19 on a planet of over 7 billion, your mask and clean hands won't cut it. Likewise, shrinking your own carbon footprint is vital -- and healthy -- but humanity won't zero out carbon OR cure Covid-19 without massive efforts by every sector of every society around the world.
"Both individual behavior change and systemic change are critical to addressing a global crisis," Mann said. "We need dramatic systemic changes in the form of polices that will help us decarbonize our economy quickly."

4. Humanity is capable of fast, sweeping changes

Billions of people have changed the way they live so far this year. But changes only matter if they last.

"Temporarily, the pandemic reduced the emissions of the world's biggest carbon polluters by 20-25% in just a few weeks." says Katharine Hayhoe, a climate scientist at Texas Tech.

During the global lockdown, city-dwellers marveled at the cleaner air, brighter stars and walkable streets but even as the world reopens and pollution-spewing industries quickly undo all positive gains, Hayhoe points out that if humanity can repeat the feat with more wisdom and strategy than tragedy and fear, fast action is possible.
"I find this incredibly hopeful because if we made those changes permanent we'd be halfway to the Paris Climate Accords target in just four weeks."

5. In the age of "threat multipliers," the health of your body depends on the health of the planet now more than ever

"I often feel as I am putting a Band-Aid on a bullet wound," Dr. Renee Salas testified before Congress this week as the emergency room physician and fellow at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health described a surge of Covid-19 and heat stroke patients at the same time. "I may be able to improve their symptoms but then I send them back out my doors without having gone upstream to the root of the problem. Climate change is increasingly threatening the tools that I need to do my job as extreme heat and climate-intensified weather threaten our health care infrastructure, power, and supply chains."
She described an equipment shortage in her Boston hospital triggered by Hurricane Maria, 1,700 miles away in Puerto Rico. "We were forced to ration IV fluids and give the patients who didn't meet the severity criteria a bottle of Gatorade."

"I often feel as I am putting a Band-Aid on a bullet wound," Dr. Renee Salas testified before Congress this week as the emergency room physician and fellow at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health described a surge of Covid-19 and heat stroke patients at the same time. "I may be able to improve their symptoms but then I send them back out my doors without having gone upstream to the root of the problem. Climate change is increasingly threatening the tools that I need to do my job as extreme heat and climate-intensified weather threaten our health care infrastructure, power, and supply chains."
She described an equipment shortage in her Boston hospital triggered by Hurricane Maria, 1,700 miles away in Puerto Rico. "We were forced to ration IV fluids and give the patients who didn't meet the severity criteria a bottle of Gatorade."

While a new study links an explosion of novel disease with an increase in deforestation, Jonathan Foley hopes the pandemic helps people draw a direct line between forests and hospitals. "That's happening because we're breaking down natural ecosystems," the climate scientist and director of Project Drawdown said. "Otherwise we keep viruses in check and in the wild. But when we go in and tear down rainforest, we're mixing viruses and people for the first time in history and look what happens. I hope what we learned is that these 'one-off events' aren't one-off at all. They're part of a larger pattern."