COVID-19 and climate change have multiple similarities. They are both global phenomena that left unmanaged will inflict excruciating human and economic tolls. They also require a similar mix of approaches to solve: international cooperation, innovation, governmental investment, rapid deployment of solutions, and acceptance of the science that underlies the risks. But they have one more similarity that attracts less attention: they both require one generation to change behavior in support of another.

For COVID-19, we ask schoolchildren to wear masks all day in socially-distant classrooms or endure endless hours of staring at screens on computers, phones, or tablets for virtual classes without social stimulation with their friends. Even worse, some children may be stuck in unsafe, abusive home environments. The risk of death or hospitalization for children is relatively lower, so ultimately their sacrifice is to protect older generations including their teachers, parents, and grandparents. The sacrifices made for COVID-19 have also been inequitable, with communities of color disproportionately at risk. The burden from COVID-19 on younger generations has been heavy.

For climate change, society is asking older generations—today's decisionmakers—to build better infrastructure for tomorrow and to change our energy and land use patterns today to reduce and reverse emissions on behalf of schoolchildren and future generations that haven't been born yet. But unlike the schoolchildren who are sacrificing to protect older generations, the older generations do not seem willing to reciprocate. Rather, today's leaders put up a fight and resist the necessary changes. Doing so has delayed effective action by decades, inflicting more harm, which again often falls disproportionately on marginalized communities.

Read the full article about climate change and COVID-19 by Michael E. Webber and Constantine Samaras at the RAND Corporation.