The COVID-19 pandemic has brought our society to a cross-roads. Measures that seemed impossible to consider previously: near-universal remote work and education, drastic reductions in travel, universal basic income, and others, are suddenly in place – made possible by our desire to limit the death toll (and economic consequences) of this disease.
However, it’s possible that the lives these measures save from COVID-19 may pale in comparison to the lives they save in other ways. I (uncharacteristically) will not attempt to do the math1, but we almost certainly see a massive reduction in traffic fatalities these days, probably a reduction in violent crime, and although harder to measure, we may be saving lives by doing less damage to our environment.
We are forced to consider what we value as a society. Over a million people a year die from traffic fatalities. This number is likely to be greater than the death toll that COVID-19 will reap. And yet we are not banning automobiles. But the math is not simple. A total ban on automobiles would cost lives for all sorts of complex reasons. Just as the current social distancing measures will inevitably cost some lives as well.
We probably don’t have enough data to really do the math on whether any given action will cost or save lives in the long run. But we can decide as a society what our priorities are, what kinds of deaths are unacceptable, and how we want to improve ourselves and grow.
I hope that we all can take some time to reflect on this and recognize that all the options have always been on the table. Climate change might be thought of as being in the early stage of exponential growth, like when the COVID-19 cases numbered in the tens or twenties. But if we fail to take effective action, the growth will happen and will accelerate2. The consequences of unchecked climate change will easily dwarf the impact of COVID-19. We should recognize now that we have options available, rather than wait until it’s too late.
- Although other have: http://www.g-feed.com/2020/03/covid-19-reduces-economic-activity.html
- See analysis compiled by the United Nations: https://www.un.org/en/sections/issues-depth/climate-change/