The country's response to the new coronavirus pandemic could provide valuable insight on how to curb climate change's effects. Scientists are considering ways to model climate actions after the COVID-19 outbreak.
Director of the Montana State University Institute on Ecosystems Bruce Maxwell says the first step is having accurate information to work with, such as testing in the case of coronavirus. On the climate-change front, he says there are major gaps in our knowledge, which will hinder our response.
"We don't even have a mechanism to really dedicate ourselves to understanding what the recent historic trends have been," says Maxwell. "So we're not prepared. It's like saying, 'Oh, we have a pandemic, but we have no doctors.'"
Maxwell says unlike COVID-19, the effects of climate change are here to stay. He says preparation will involve adapting to a warmer planet, rather than imagining a day when climate change is no longer a threat.
Cathy Whitlock is a regents professor of earth sciences, also at Montana State University. She says if the planet continues to warm unabated, it will have serious effects on Montanans' way of life.
For instance, drier weather is likely to lead to more severe wildfire seasons. She says the climate crisis could be thought of as a drawn-out version of the new coronavirus pandemic, with its effects leading to more serious consequences the longer we fail to take action.
"Climate change is playing out over decades to centuries," says Whitlock. "But the really critical point is coming up really soon, and that's where we really have to reduce the amount of emissions by mid-century."
According to the International Energy Agency, greenhouse-gas emissions will be reduced by 8% this year - potentially the largest drop ever recorded. Whitlock says our lives have been put on pause and we can see the impact of reducing emissions.
"The life that we're all living now is not the life that we want to continue living," says Whitlock. "But it is a good time to reflect about - when things start up again - what can be done to reduce carbon emissions?"
Whitlock and Maxwell are part of a group including Montana health-care professionals who are releasing a report in the fall on the impact of climate change on the state.
They also are part of the governor's climate-solutions panel, which is forming recommendations for the state on how to prepare for climate change.