Comparing the response to the virus by Canada and by the U.S. is illuminating.
We human beings have known about climate change since the late 1980s, and we have known about the damage it is causing for years. 2019, with its wildfires, storms, melting sea ice, floods in Miami and elsewhere and famines, has provided a dramatic manifestation of what we expect in the future. Scientists are telling us that all of these weather events will increase in intensity.
Yet as we were amazed and frightened by the wildfires that were so close to Sydney, Australia, in 2019, COVID-19 made its appearance in Wuhan, China, then spread around the world with incredible speed and intensity. As of May 4, there are more than 3.58 million cases and more than 252,000 deaths worldwide. Though the harm caused by the climate crisis is not new, the question hovers: Have the responses to COVID-19 served as a successful dress rehearsal for the human response to the damage that will continue to be caused by the climate crisis?
Let’s look at two countries — Canada and the U.S. — and do two things. First, let’s compare the damage done in each of the countries by COVID-19. Then let’s look at the preparations made by both countries to continue to deal with the climate crisis. But we need to make note that the population of the United States is almost 10 times larger than Canada’s. So, to compare any quantity, we need to multiply the Canadian figure by 10 in order to do a comparison.
As of May 4, there were 3,854 deaths caused by COVID-19 in Canada. Multiplying times 10 gets us 38,540. In the United States, there have been 69,680 deaths caused by COVID-19. When adjusted for population differences, the death rate was nearly two times higher in the United States.
Why are there more deaths in the U.S.? Two major reasons seem to be the answer. Canada has a good healthcare system that is free to all Canadians and seems to have the support of almost all Canadians. So, nobody said I can’t afford to go to the doctor if I have COVID-19. There was testing and hospitalization for those needing it and there were plenty of masks and ventilators and personal protective equipment.
In addition, the Trump administration ended the White House’s National Security Council Directorate for Global Health Security and Biodefense, whose mission was to protect Americans from pandemics.
In Canada, there is a belief that government should have the right to make decisions in times of need. Governments are trusted to make decisions based on their understanding of the common good. Because that is true, all of the provincial governments, no matter what their party, agree with the federal government’s strategies on coronavirus.
The second reason is the national and provincial governments, in cooperation with Health Canada, enacted action plans together. Most Canadians participated in the strategies of the government from the beginning. As we have seen in other countries, governments that move quickly have a better chance of diminishing the harm caused by the pandemic.
What about the question we started with? Has COVID-19 been a successful dress rehearsal for mitigating the climate crisis? The United States is in the process of being the only country in the world that is leaving the Paris agreement, which it is scheduled to do Nov. 4, one day after the U.S. election.
The Canadian government is committed to the Paris agreement’s goal of getting to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. That means that they have agreed to reach 30 percent of the 2005 levels of greenhouse-gas emissions by 2030. A terrific goal. There are people in Canada who believe that they need to do much more. Some have stated that they should cut 60 percent of the greenhouse-gas emissions produced in 2005 by 2030.
It seems to me that Canada has had a successful dress rehearsal and should do well at reaching its climate change goals. Its commitment is admirable.
— Rev. Richard Killmer is a retired Presbyterian minister living in East Grand Rapids.