The coronavirus may facilitate fundamental changes that help us to combat climate change. This pandemic has captured global attention and there is reason to believe that it may augur an unprecedented shift in our attitudes and behaviors. At the very least it sets the stage for a reorganization of our lives and our behaviors. If these changes are sufficiently widespread they would give us a good chance of keeping temperatures from surpassing upper threshold limits that represent an existential threat to life on Earth.
If we are to tackle climate change we will need to see global changes. This must include individuals, businesses, all levels of government, as well as international organizations and multinationals. While laws, rules, and regulations are undeniably critical, to address the scale of the threat we face we need genuine resolve that goes beyond fear of censure or sanction.
What we need is a psychological change that augurs a paradigm shift. Only pervasive public support can force leaders to marshal the political will to act. To make this possible we need to see a far-reaching change in fundamental values.
We can expedite this transition by leveraging our understanding of social tipping points (STP) and social tipping interventions (STI). STP is about far more than enhancing awareness this is about rapidly changing social norms. The research reveals that STIs can activate a contagious process that rapidly spreads values, norms, behaviors, and technologies.
As explained by the Potsdam Institute to accelerate a fundamental shift in behavior we need to create a new social equilibrium in which climate action is recognized as the social norm. Research indicates that moving away from fossil fuels may be the first step in what has been described as a positive avalanche effect. This may be the most effective route to expedite the opening of political pathways that lead to decarbonization.
Whether or not the coronavirus will prove to be a tipping point remains to be seen. However, if we apply what we have learned from STI we may be able to increase the prospects for prosocial change. This modern-day plague is in no way a guarantee that we will alter our perilous trajectory but it does afford an opportunity to do so. We have already seen how it has significantly decreased climate change-causing greenhouse gas emissions and now we are challenged to sustain these changes. If nothing else the coronavirus has made it clear that widespread change is possible.