America Needs to Lock Down Again
The Only Way to Slow the Coronavirus Until the Arrival of a Vaccine
Professionals warn and plan, amateurs scoff and ignore them, and by the time a crisis arrives, it’s too late to do more than react and suffer.
Nothing about this story is novel; the COVID-19 pandemic is only the latest in a long series of unnecessary catastrophes. We can’t go back now and regain those precious early months during the winter, using them to aggressively test and quarantine and contain the outbreak. We can’t retrospectively conjure up a functioning global public health infrastructure, effective crisis-management systems, and leaders who put lives over pride. But at least we can learn the lessons.
Climate change is also a crisis. It is unfolding more slowly than its pandemic cousin but will have even vaster consequences. The world had a chance to tackle it early but blew that through decades of denial. Much future damage is baked in already. Yet wise public policy can still limit the scale of the eventual disaster—if everybody takes the challenge seriously across the board now, as our lead package this issue explains.
International climate change agreements need to be restructured to reduce incentives for free-riding, writes the Nobel Prize–winning economist William Nordhaus. And a strong global push to develop and adopt low-emission energy technologies could limit future temperature increases, argues a team of top researchers.
Washington should see climate change not only as an environmental risk but also as a strategic opportunity, suggest two former Republican secretaries of state, James Baker and George Shultz, with Ted Halstead, and capitalize on the early U.S. lead in green technology. John Podesta and Todd Stern, who handled climate policy in the Obama administration, offer a road map for overhauling American foreign policy and institutions to rise to the occasion.
Rebecca Henderson shows why business leaders are starting to drive a green agenda rather than obstruct it. Kathy Baughman McLeod notes the crucial role of local and community leadership in fostering simple behavioral changes with powerful collective effects (the environmental equivalents of hand washing). And Mohamed Adow points out that any climate effort must include major development assistance for poor countries, since they are the most vulnerable to the crisis, the least responsible for it, and the key to its solution.
We failed to stop the sickness this time. But we can do better with the fire next time.
—Gideon Rose, Editor