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Coronavirus and Climate Change: Collective Action Is the Only Way Forward
By Neil King and Gabriel Borrud
Human beings all over the world agreed to strict limitations to their rights when governments made the decision to enter lockdown during the COVID-19 crisis. Many have done it willingly on behalf of the collective. So why can't this same attitude be seen when tackling climate change?
Stephen Reicher is a social psychologist at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, where he researches collective behavior and social identity. DW spoke to him for the second season of the environmental podcast On The Green Fence.
DW: We've watched the collective move very fast in response to this crisis. Were you amazed by that?
Stephen Reicher: At one level, I wasn't. If you look at the literature on what happens in emergencies, the traditional literature plays into this notion of the public as a problem — the idea that human beings are always psychologically frail and they always have difficulty in dealing with complex information. And under a crisis, they crack, they panic. You would never have a Hollywood disaster film without people running, screaming, waving their hands in the air and blocking the exits.
But actually, that isn't what happens in disasters. When people come together, when they have a sense that others will support them, especially in situations of difficulty, then it makes them better able to cope and more psychologically resilient. Collectivity is the resource that allows us to cope practically, but also psychologically, to get through these times.
Why was the response to the coronavirus seemingly so easy, particularly when compared to the far more existential threat of climate change? What is the difference between these two?
The temporality of the issue, the fact that it is immediate, the ways in which it is tangible and the way in which it is unarguable.
If you are talking about the events that are happening now due to climate change and that are killing people, it is probabilistic that climate change was critical to them. The probabilities are very, very high. But it is not immediately self-evident in the same way that it's evident that somebody is dying from coronavirus. These things become arguable.
And that's where the second factor comes in, which is the political factor. In some places it has been consensual, and it has been pretty positive. And that's because politicians have not tried to argue or mobilize against compliance with medically necessary measures. In other places, that's not true — in the United States, for instance, where Trump has been supporting those in various states who have been calling it a "lockdown tyranny." And in Brazil, and in India.
The other absolutely obvious point differentiating coronavirus from climate change are the political differences and the differences in terms of political leadership — in terms of a) how we understand what's going on, and b) how we should respond to what's going on.
If I understood you correctly, if there were general consensus and a general realization that we are facing an existential threat and everybody really believed the science, the collective would be moved to action. Is it really that simple or is something else holding us back?
At the moment we are acting collectively towards members of our community who are currently alive, and we can see whether they will live or die. It is much more abstract in the sense of climate change because we are acting for many of those who are not yet born — they might be our children or grandchildren.
It's the articulation of the psychological and lived experience with the ideological way in which we make sense of it and explain it and are told how to behave. The reason why the political, in many ways, is more powerful in undermining action on climate change is because it is much more abstract. It is a much less direct experience.
Do we need role models to catalyze change? And if so, what kind of role models? If Greta Thunberg, for instance, can't pull it off, then who could?
We need leadership. I don't think it's entirely coincidental that some of the countries where coronavirus is raging most dangerously are those with toxic leadership, as in the United States, as in Brazil. Whereas in some of those countries which are doing well — like New Zealand — the leadership takes a very different form indeed.
Leadership can take many forms. It doesn't have to be traditional. It doesn't have to be hierarchical. It doesn't have to be a single individual. It can be distributed. But you need voices which, firstly, serve to create a sense of community and communal responsibility. Secondly, they need to form a relationship with the public. A leader needs to be seen in many ways as one of us, as acting for us, and as achieving for us, in order to be effective.
Leadership is effective to the extent that we believe that a leader is representative of us, understands who we are and what we value. More than ever, we do need good, inclusive leadership that engages with the public rather than imposes on the public.
On a personal level, Steve, if you as a social psychologist could mold the change that we'd need to achieve for a sustainable world, how would you go about putting the collective on the right track?
The group is always going to be part of the solution. Groups can do awful things and groups can do magnificent things. The problem doesn't lie in group psychology, per se. It depends on the specific ideologies and cultures that define the groups we belong to. How inclusive or exclusive are they? What are the norms and values that define the nature of our community? Are they values of compassion or are they values of strength and domination? Not all groups are good, but that depends upon the group culture.
The thing that is absolutely clear, however, is that if you get rid of groups, then you get rid of the one vehicle of change that we've actually got. If you get rid of groups, you freeze the status quo. The power of the powerless lies in their combination. I think we can wield that power for good rather than for ill.
Do you think we're going to pull this off? If the science is right, we are running out of time. When it comes to the changes that have to be made, are we going to be magnificent? Are we going to be horrible?
There is a problem with the debate that's going on at the moment. Some people are telling us that coronavirus is going to change the world for the good — we're going to realize that collectivity is terrible, we're going to realize that precarity is destructive and that inequalities kill. And other people are saying, no, no, no, it's going to be completely awful — we're all going to be divided, we're going have a recession which will pit us against each other.
The danger of making predictions in those forms is that it gives rise to fatalism. Either you believe it's going be awful so there is nothing you can do about it, or you believe it's going to happen anyway and therefore you don't need to do anything about it. Those were the critiques, for instance, of mechanical forms of Marxism.
I don't think there is any inevitable outcome. I'm not a prophet. If we want to move forward progressively, we've got to harness the power of the collective. We've got to understand how it's within the collective that we become agents who can actually make and change our own world.
To predict is to be counterproductive. It pacifies people. It says "the future will be like this," rather than to say "we need to fight for the future."
Reposted with permission from Deutsche Welle.
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By Joe Roman and Taylor Ricketts
The COVID-19 pandemic in the United States is the deepest and longest period of malaise in a dozen years. Our colleagues at the University of Vermont have concluded this by analyzing posts on Twitter. The Vermont Complex Systems Center studies 50 million tweets a day, scoring the "happiness" of people's words to monitor the national mood. That mood today is at its lowest point since 2008 when they started this project.
The Hedonometer measures happiness through analysis of key words on Twitter, which is now used by one in five Americans. This chart covers 18 months from early 2019 to July 2020, showing major dips in 2020. hedonometer.org<p>These same tweets also indicate a potential salve. Before pandemic lockdowns began, doctoral student <a href="https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=0P0ZYbIAAAAJ&hl=en" target="_blank">Aaron Schwartz</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/pan3.10045" target="_blank">compared tweets before, during, and after visits to 150 parks, playgrounds and plazas</a> in San Francisco. He found that park visits corresponded with a spike in happiness, followed by an afterglow lasting up to four hours.</p><p>Tweets from parks contained fewer negative words such as "no," "not" and "can't," and fewer first-person pronouns like "I" and "me." It seems that nature makes people more positive and less self-obsessed.</p><p>Parks keep people happy in times of global crisis, economic shutdown and public anger. Research has also shown that transmission rates for COVID-19 are <a href="https://www.sfchronicle.com/news/article/Is-risk-of-coronavirus-transmission-lower-15287602.php" target="_blank">much lower outdoors than inside</a>. As scholars who study <a href="https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=yFzb2EUAAAAJ&hl=en" target="_blank">conservation</a> and how nature <a href="https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=CCnUeN8AAAAJ&hl=en" target="_blank">contributes to human well-being</a>, we see opening up parks and creating new ones as a straightforward remedy for Americans' current blues.</p>
Park Visits Are Up During the Pandemic<p>According to the Hedonometer, sentiments expressed online started trending lower in mid-March as the impacts of the pandemic became clear. As lockdowns continued, they registered the lowest sentiment scores on record. Then in late May, effects from George Floyd's death in police custody and the following protests and police response once again could be seen on Twitter. May 31, 2020 was the saddest day of the project.</p><p>Recent surveys of park visitors around the University of Vermont have shown people <a href="https://osf.io/preprints/socarxiv/sd3h6" target="_blank">using green spaces more</a> since COVID-19 lockdowns began. Many people reported that parks were highly important to their well-being during the pandemic.</p>
<div id="4c7e4" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="bc0ac146ab2a94228f32d973fc2ab272"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1289428912879964160" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">#Goldengatepark #sf #quarantinemood https://t.co/9l3ufnbkt6</div> — Suvd (@Suvd)<a href="https://twitter.com/Suvd19486406/statuses/1289428912879964160">1596258783.0</a></blockquote></div><p>The powerful effects of nature are strongest in large parks with more trees, but smaller neighborhood parks also provide a significant boost. Their impact on happiness is real, measurable and lasting.</p><p>Twitter records show that parks increase happiness to a level similar to the bounce at Christmas, which typically is the happiest day of the year. Schwartz has since expanded his <a href="https://arxiv.org/pdf/2006.10658.pdf" target="_blank">Twitter study</a> to the 25 largest cities in the U.S. and found this bounce everywhere.</p><p>Parks and public spaces won't cure COVID-19 or stop police brutality, but they are far more than playgrounds. There is growing evidence that parks contribute to mental and physical health in a range of communities.</p><p>In a 2015 study, for example, Stanford researchers sent people out for one of two walks: through a local park or on a busy street. Those who walked in nature showed <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.landurbplan.2015.02.005" target="_blank">improved moods and better memory performance</a> compared to the urban group. And a team led by <a href="https://penniur.upenn.edu/people/eugenia-gina-south" target="_blank">Gina South</a> of the University of Pennsylvania showed in a 2018 study that greening and cleaning up blighted vacant lots in Philadelphia <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2018.0298" target="_blank">reduced local residents' feelings of depression, worthlessness and poor mental health</a>.</p>
Creative Strategies<p>It isn't easy to create new parks on the scale of San Francisco's Golden Gate Park or the Washington Mall, but smaller projects can expand outdoor space. Options include greening vacant lots, closing streets and investing in existing parks to make them safer, greener and shadier and support wildlife.</p><p>These initiatives don't have to be capital-intensive. In the University of Pennsylvania study, for example, renovating a vacant lot by removing trash, planting grass and trees and installing a low fence cost only about US$1,600.</p><p>Urban green space is most needed in neighborhoods that have lacked funding for parks, especially given <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/08/nyregion/coronavirus-race-deaths.html" target="_blank">COVID-19's disproportionate impact on Black and Latinx people</a>.</p><p>Cities can also create parklike spaces by <a href="https://theconversation.com/with-fewer-cars-on-us-streets-now-is-the-time-to-reinvent-roadways-and-how-we-use-them-140408" target="_blank">closing streets to cars</a>. Many cities worldwide are currently retooling their transportation systems for the post-COVID-19 world in order to <a href="https://thecityfix.com/blog/bicycles-slower-speeds-livable-city-paris-mayor-anne-hidalgo-plans-ambitious-second-term-dario-hidalgo/" target="_blank">reallocate public space</a>, widen sidewalks and make more space for nature.</p><p>Urban designers, artists, ecologists and other citizens can play a direct role, too, creating pop-up parks and green spaces. Some advocates <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-09-15/a-brief-history-of-park-ing-day" target="_blank">transform parking spaces into mini-parks</a> with grass, potted trees and seating for just the time on the meter, to make a larger point about turning so much public space over to cars.</p><p>Or cities can invest a little more. Minneapolis, Cincinnati and Arlington, Virginia, have won <a href="https://www.tpl.org/parkscore" target="_blank">national recognition</a> for their ambitious investments in public park systems. These areas could serve as models for neighborhoods that lack access to parks.</p>
<div id="25fd0" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="383f0d2df0237e9359c30dcce6cd6c42"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1276558744835379201" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Looking to safely get outside? Check out the best parks for social distancing in this year's top ten ParkScore citi… https://t.co/HJjEtDsrTD</div> — The Trust for Public Land (@The Trust for Public Land)<a href="https://twitter.com/tpl_org/statuses/1276558744835379201">1593190296.0</a></blockquote></div>
A New Park Deal?<p>The United States has historically driven economic recovery with major infrastructure investments, like the New Deal in the 1930s and the 2009 <a href="https://www.investopedia.com/terms/a/american-recovery-and-reinvestment-act.asp" target="_blank">American Reinvestment and Recovery Act</a>. Such investments could easily include nature-positive spaces.</p><p>Parks are not panaceas, as evidenced by the widely publicized <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/06/nyregion/amy-cooper-false-report-charge.html" target="_blank">racist confrontation between a white woman and a Black birder</a> in New York's Central Park in early July. But Hedonometer data add to a <a href="https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/5/7/eaax0903?utm_source=miragenews&utm_medium=miragenews&utm_campaign=news" target="_blank">growing body of evidence</a> that they provide <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1807504116" target="_blank">clear mental health benefits</a>. Creating and expanding parks also <a href="https://www.nrpa.org/contentassets/f568e0ca499743a08148e3593c860fc5/economic-impact-study-summary.pdf" target="_blank">generates jobs and economic activity</a>, with much of the money spent locally.</p><p>We believe investments in nature are well worth it, offering both short-term solace in difficult times and long-term benefits to health, economies and communities.</p>
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New York State Attorney General Letitia James announced Thursday that she will attempt to dismantle the National Rifle Association (NRA), arguing that years of corruption and mismanagement warrant the dissolution of the activist organization, as CNN reported.
<div id="7eb49" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="83819841e380a7072ec66d3186c160e8"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1291705003984510977" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">🚨RESPONSE to #Mauritius #OILSpill 🚨 “Once again we see the risks in oil: aggravating the #ClimateCrisis, as well as… https://t.co/PBLioZat6X</div> — Greenpeace Africa (@Greenpeace Africa)<a href="https://twitter.com/Greenpeaceafric/statuses/1291705003984510977">1596801446.0</a></blockquote></div><p>"There is no guaranteed safe way to extract, transport and store fossil fuel products. This oil leak is not a twist of fate, but the choice of our twisted addiction to fossil fuels. We must react by accelerating our withdrawal from fossil fuels," Greenpeace Africa Senior Climate and Energy Campaign Manager Happy Khambule said in a <a href="https://www.greenpeace.org/africa/en/press/11864/greenpeace-africa-response-to-mauritius-oil-spill/?utm_campaign=oil&utm_source=t.co&utm_medium=post&utm_content=single-image&utm_term=mauritius-oil-spill-reactive" target="_blank">statement Friday</a>. "Once again we see the risks in oil: aggravating the <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/climate-crisis" target="_self">climate crisis</a>, as well as devastating oceans and <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/biodiversity" target="_self">biodiversity</a> and threatening local livelihoods around some of Africa's most precious lagoons."</p>
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By Gianna-Carina Grün
While the first countries are easing their lockdowns, others are reporting more and more new cases every day. Data for the global picture shows the pandemic is far from over. DW has the latest statistics.
What's the Current Global Trend?<p>The goal for all countries is to make it to the blue part of the chart and stay there. Countries and territories in this section reported zero new cases both this week (past seven days) and the week before.</p><p>Currently, that is the case for 14 out of 209 countries and territories. </p>
How Has the Covid-19 Trend Evolved Over the Past Weeks?<p>The situation has improved slightly: 87 countries report more cases this week than last week. </p>
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