What Wearing a Mask and Mitigating Climate Change Have in Common
I admit: it’s more than just common sense
Despite the obvious surge in coronavirus cases this past month, so many Americans continue to detest the wearing of face masks, citing rare health experts who are skeptical about masks’ effectiveness. Perhaps some Americans still do not believe the coronavirus is a real threat.
These Americans may very well be the same people who refuse to believe in climate change because there is “just not enough proof” that the climate is changing.
Why, then, do we clowns wear masks before scientists have formally declared a direct transmission cause? And why do we fools jump at the chance to protect our planet from a threat some may argue is a long, long time into the future?
The answer is very simple: the precautionary principle.
The precautionary principle is a scientific approach that states when we identify a problem with potentially disastrous consequences, we should take precautions to protect ourselves from its effects as soon as possible, even if the exact cost of doing so is unknown, because the consequences of the problem are far too costly.
This principle assumes that it is much better to act and ultimately waste our efforts than to not act and suffer grave effects.
In other words, since researchers do not yet understand coronavirus in the same way they understand other devastating viruses and diseases, we should take seriously any precautions suggested to mitigate our risk of contracting the disease.
Similarly, just because only 97% rather than 100% of scientists agree that the climate is changing does not mean we simply sit back and relax until the remaining 3% get on board. The potential repercussions of a warming climate are far too dire to risk.
We can break this down even more:
Currently, the coronavirus infection rate in the U.S. only slightly exceeds 1%. However, since our population is nearing 330 million, 1% is a startling 3.3 million people!
As news reports have revealed to us from the very beginning, contracting the disease is no trivial happenstance. In addition to inducing a fever, chills, and a cough, the coronavirus causes undeniable respiratory problems, especially for those with preexisting conditions, and it has claimed the lives of almost 600,000 people worldwide.
Thankfully, as we await the successful development of a vaccine, we know of a few other ways to mitigate the virus’s spread: social distancing, self-quarantining, hand-washing, and wearing face masks.
A recent Goldman Sachs study concluded that a national mask mandate would save our economy from a 5% GDP loss in coming months. Another report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that two mask-wearing stylists who had the virus did not spread it to their 139 clients in a Missouri salon. This new information has led the CDC to likewise recommend a mask mandate for the U.S.
At this point in time, the impact of the global health crisis is already taking its toll: people are dying, the economy is suffering, and no one knows when we will finally be coronavirus-free (if ever).
Since we have evidence that masks genuinely improve our safety, we as reasonably human beings should make an effort to always wear them when we leave our homes, if even to prevent the spread of our own germs to others.
The same goes for climate change.
If scientists and researchers are correct, the potential impact of climate change on human civilization can be catastrophic.
The temperature of the earth has always oscillated — hence the Ice Age — yet, since the start of the Industrial Revolution, the rate at which our planet’s climate has been changing has increased significantly.
The exponential curve illustrates this change:
Temperature anomaly between 1880 and 2015. Source: JPL/CalTech and NASA
Our climate has been changing at a rate faster than “normal” due to increased greenhouse gas emissions of carbon dioxide, methane, and others as a result of human activity. Greenhouse gases contribute to global warming by trapping unnatural amounts of heat in our atmosphere.
This graph from NASA shows clearly that our atmospheric carbon dioxide levels have also shot up incredibly high since 1950 in an unprecedented way:
In coming decades, we can expect to experience volatile weather patterns that affect crop yields, more frequent natural disasters, lowered air quality and more air pollution, water scarcity due to increased drought, an environment better suited to spread deadly diseases,
the extinction of thousands of species, increased ocean acidification that can devastate marine life, a melting Arctic and the destruction of habitats, rising sea levels that threaten low-altitude communities, and more should we do nothing to stop the rate at which our climate is changing.
Furthermore, the aforementioned consequences contribute to a positive feedback loop, only ensuring that any repercussions will simply cause more of the same, devastating result.
At such a high cost to our future, we would be remiss if we did not take climate change seriously. Politics aside, the precautionary principle reminds us that we should act now while we still can to slow the rate at which the climate is changing.
In past decades, researches have made predictions for 2025, 2030, 2050, and the like — but it is already 2020, and we only have five years until we reach that first benchmark. We have not made enough progress. With our world experiencing a deadly pandemic, the can for climate change issues has once again been kicked down the road.
Feasible actions to mitigate climate change on a micro scale — aside from first believing that it is a problem, the seemingly most difficult step — include investing in energy-saving appliances, reducing resource (water!) use, taking advantage of public transportation, and more.
If, in 2100, studies fail to show a correlation between human activity and climate change, we can admit to wasted efforts. However, if we do nothing and the prophecies indeed become truth, our civilization would face an existential threat.
Reasonable people would be willing to make small sacrifices right now for a better future. If masks can prevent the spread of the deadly coronavirus, why not give up a bit of your freedom and save a life? If spending on efforts to combat climate change (and taking small steps at home) can save humanity from a startling — and ominous — future, why not take the chance?
After all, we only live once.
Originally published on medium.
Southern California native studying International Politics in Washington, D.C. Passionate writer in political, cultural, societal, and international affairs.