The Exponential Curve applied to Coronavirus and Climate Change

Taking a lesson from our flat-footed response to the coronavirus pandemic, we can no longer delay aggressive actions to halt and reverse what otherwise will be inevitable pandemic-like crises arising from climate change

It’s an understatement to say we’re living in strange times. In a matter of weeks, we’ve had to transition to a completely no-contact, remote world in the hope of flattening the curve. For many of us, this is the first time we’ve dealt with a public health disaster of this global scale, forcing us to recognize just how vulnerable our human civilization is against disease outbreaks or natural disasters.

In a Politico article, Wharton professor Howard Kunreuther and colleague Paul Slovic outline how the exponential curve of coronavirus infection parallels the destructive exponential growth processes (accelerating sea level rise, pandemic outbreaks, wildfires, droughts, heat waves) associated with global climate change. Similar to how the initial number of cases in China gave little concern, scientific warnings on dangerous levels of carbon emissions are still being overlooked in favor of short-term profits. Now we are going through the dramatic lengths of social distancing and slowing our global economy to flatten the curve. We must take away from the COVID-19 pandemic a renewed sense of urgency to mitigate climate change and prevent future catastrophes. Kunreuther recognizes this outbreak as a call to action:

Taking a lesson from our flat-footed response to the coronavirus pandemic, we can no longer delay aggressive actions to halt and reverse what otherwise will be inevitable pandemic-like crises arising from climate change

Fortunately, much-needed climate innovation is alive and buzzing. Despite the challenges of the disaster we face today, entrepreneurs are pushing to tackle critical climate issues. This week, Google announced 11 startups to participate in the inaugural Google for Startups Accelerator on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including Climate Tech startups such as Apic.ai (saving bees with artificial intelligence), Cervest.earth (predicting risks and effects of climate volatility), Ellipsis.earth (using drones to identify plastic pollution), Everimpact (monitoring air quality and carbon emissions in cities), Ororatech (real-time monitoring of wildfires), and Solar Freeze (mobile cold storage units powered by renewable energy for smallholder farmers). As entrepreneurs and investors enter this space, we will hopefully be able to flatten climate change’s exponential curve.

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