Have we learned anything from the COVID-19 tragedy?

To the editor:

As of May 11, the United States has the 11th highest number of per capita deaths of COVID-19 in the world. Almost 90,000 of our citizens have died. For our country, with its vast wealth and sophisticated medical system, this is shocking.

Lessons we must learn from this tragedy.

1) Listen to the scientists. Scientists have been telling us to prepare for a global pandemic for decades. Despite these warnings, many government leaders ignored and minimized the seriousness of the situation for weeks, leading to unnecessary suffering and death. Those same people who belittled the science are now clamoring for scientists to come up with a vaccine. You cannot have it both ways. Respect the science.

2) Reacting early is key. Countries like Taiwan, Vietnam and Iceland took immediate action and were able to dramatically minimize the number of cases in their countries. Vietnam began contact tracing and testing on Dec. 31, just two weeks after the first cases in Wuhan were announced. To date in Vietnam, which has a population of more than 96 million, there have been just 153 confirmed cases.

3) Have a strategic plan. Countries that had an organized and comprehensive plan including social distancing, contact tracing and testing were able to stem the spread of the disease.

4) Be open and honest with your citizens and do not politicize it.

As we deal with COVID 19 and its aftermath, another even more dangerous tragedy, the climate crisis, is looming and these same lessons apply:

1) Listen to the scientists. Scientists have been warning us about the dangers of the buildup of CO2 in the atmosphere for decades. We ignore or minimize this at our own peril. We can hope that science will help us find a way out but the only sane course of action is to immediately begin to reduce our greenhouse gas output by reducing our fossil fuel consumption. That means rapidly converting to clean renewable wind and solar and embracing regenerative agricultures.

2) Reacting early is key. The longer we wait, the more catastrophic the consequences and the higher the price tag, both in dollars and human suffering.

3) Have a strategic plan. Many countries have clearly defined paths to reach carbon neutrality by 2030. The United States government does not.

4) Be open and honest with your citizens and don’t politicize it. Our country’s stunning and dangerous lack of action on climate change has become political. Some politicians ignore or refute the scientific facts but the science is clear – the buildup of greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels and deforestation is fueling dangerous changes in our climate.

Let’s be smart and learn from our experience with the coronavirus by taking the best advice from the world’s leading scientists on the climate crisis. Let’s be proactive and take immediate comprehensive action. Let’s be bold and rebuild our economy, not by investing in antiquated fossil fuel technologies, but by investing in clean, renewable energy, regenerative agriculture and carbon sequestration.

Mary Tarnoff, Fairfield, retired science educator