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COVID-19 pandemic a ‘fire drill’ for climate change

March 30, 2020
electrical power lines against the backdrop of a hazy sky.Just as reasearchers have long warned about the potential of a novel coronavirus pandemic, climate change scientists have warned for decades that we are unprepared for climate change. Rochester astrophysicist Adam Frank says, “It’s time to wake up.” (Getty Images photo)

Is the COVID-19 pandemic a precursor for our planet’s future under climate change?

Yes, says Adam Frank, a professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Rochester, in an analysis for NBC News.

“Other than the occasional hurricane or earthquake, we have lived our whole lives taking for granted that this thing we call ‘civilization’ was a machine that could never fail,” he writes. “It’s time to wake up.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has already disrupted and altered the social, transportation, energy, economic, and health care networks our global civilization has built over the last 100 years. Like the pandemic, climate change will also have long-term effects on these networks as heat waves, floods, fires, and storms inundate our systems.

“If I asked you just a few weeks ago to imagine what that would look like, what it would feel like, to see those networks stressed, you’d probably point to some Hollywood science fiction movie,” Frank writes. “Today, you just have to turn on the news. Now we know firsthand the dread that follows when these systems are threatened.”

The COVID-19 pandemic mirrors climate change in other ways. The pandemic was not much of a surprise to researchers studying infectious disease, who warned of being prepared for the potential outbreak of a novel virus. Climate change scientists too have been warning for decades that we are unprepared for the disruptions resulting from climate change. These warnings have become politicized, with some groups denying the science behind global warming and the urgency to act.

But, writes Frank, “The pandemic has awakened us from our slumber. It is letting us see the real consequences of denial.”

Frank has also authored pieces for the Washington Post about reframing the climate change story and for NBC News about how artificial intelligence will make us less human and “excruciatingly boring.” A self-described “evangelist of science,” Frank has been awarded several prestigious honors for his efforts to communicate about science. His most recent book, Light of the Stars (W.W. Norton, 2018) was awarded the 2019 Phi Beta Kappa Award for Science.

Portrait of Adam Frank

Astrophysicist Adam Frank

A self-described “evangelist of science,” Frank regularly writes and speaks about subjects like intelligent life forms in the universe, high-energy-density physics, space exploration and missions, climate change, and more.

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Category: Voices & Opinion