People are not meant to politicize disasters. It’s seen as distasteful, as taking advantage of misery, or handing out blame for the inevitable.
But disasters are inherently political. Firearms legislation correlates with mass shooting fatalities, city protection efforts affect the impact of floods, and - we are finding - disease prevention policies relate to the spread and lethality of any epidemic
Over the coming weeks and months, many people will suffer. For some that suffering will be made worse by political errors, in areas including health care funding, sick leave policies, and international cooperation. The covid-19 outbreak was unavoidable, but some of its worst effects, sadly, may not be.
A greater threat
At this point, let's look beyond the current crisis, and look at the ongoing climate change emergency. Some will say it is too soon, and too insensitive to discuss anything but the coronavirus, but as the results of one crisis play out, we can gauge our preparations for others.
In research for the next issue of the DCD Magazine, we have spent the last few months talking to data center operators about how well prepared they are for the known impacts of climate change. We looked at internationally recognized models of our future and asked a simple question: Are you ready?
The response from many, usually those that did not want to be on the record, was equally simple: The nation will provide. Surely, they said, someone else will handle it. If sea levels rise, the government will step in and build defenses. If hurricanes are set to batter our coasts, walls will be erected.
Now, as some are forced to quarantine themselves at home, and others run to the shops to panic-buy, I want to ask this community once again: Do you feel like the people in charge know what they are doing? Do you feel that everything is under control? Would you trust these people to handle a bigger disaster?
We sincerely hope that covid-19 will have a minimal impact, that we will remember it for the fear it caused, not the loss of life. We may look back on the stockpiling and masks as an extreme reaction. If we cut ourselves off from others, by instruction or through choice, let's hope we see it as a sensible precaution. In a year's time we may have a vaccine, if we're lucky, and in any case future outbreaks will be less serious.
The majority of us will emerge unscathed, and some may feel the world has over-reacted to this virus.
But climate change is different. It won't go away, and there is no hope of a vaccine.
Even with just a few percent of our population at serious risk, the novel coronavirus has roiled stock markets and brought nations to a halt.
By contrast, climate change is something that fundamentally threatens all of us. Sea levels will rise and storms will get worse. Heatwaves will render some places uninhabitable, while droughts will decimate communities.
Let's focus on coronavirus now, washing our hands, isolating, and caring for our loved ones. But at the same time, we must learn from our responses and consider the future.
Part of our response to covid-19 should be to travel less, communicate more and plan better. If we have good information, we can do this willingly and well, and in co-operation with our neighbors - whatever our leaders tell us to do.
It's worth mentioning here that digital infrastructure is already playing a key role in all of this, disseminating information, enabling the communication, and offering alternatives to travel (though of course those tools can also enable some to stoke panic and error).
And let's look ahead. Those same guidelines - less travel, communicate more, and plan better - are just as crucial in our preparations for the bigger, ongoing emergency. That same understanding of personal impact, of how our actions as individuals and voters affects this spread, is vital when we plan for tomorrow.
Let's learn from this crisis, so we can tackle the next one using all the tools we have.