Coronavirus, climate change, and living in states of emergency

Hosted by

Gernot Wagner working from home with his daughter. Photo credit: Annan Nippita.

COVID-19 is “climate change at warp speed,” according to experts in several fields, including in public health, infectious disease and climate science.  While the pandemic is already upon us, the rise in global temperatures has taken centuries to create an existential emergency. In both cases, there’s been early denial and official inaction. 

That’s the observation of Gernot Wagner, hunkered down with his family in their New York loft. He’s a climate economist at New York University and co-author of “Climate Shock: The Economic Consequences of a Hotter Planet.” That’s an ironic book title, considering that scientists have been warning for decades about what’s to come. 

Wagner says the COVID-19 pandemic is yet another crisis that President Trump and others should have foreseen, had they paid attention to scientific advisors. 

Another hostage to COVID-19 is Philip Alcabes, hunkered down in his New York City home, figuring out how to conduct his public health classes online. Hunter College, where he’s Director of Public Health, is now closed for the foreseeable future. 

Alcabes is the author of “Dread: How Fear and Fantasy have Fueled Epidemics from the Black Death to Avian Flu.” He finds reaction to the latest pandemic all too familiar.  He says the Trump administration is guilty of “gross mishandling,” and for all but ignoring the “sudden surge” of the disease, first in China and especially in Italy.  

Alcabes lists a catalogue of official failure, including “incompetence, bureaucratic obstacles and inflexibility.” But even though public health is officially a state and local issue, he says the biggest failure of all is “leadership at the national level.”

From their different perspectives, the climate economist and the public health expert draw the same conclusion: US officials missed opportunities and waited too long, so the consequences of COVID-19 and climate change are worse than they needed to be. 




Warren Olney


Andrea Brody