By Adam Frank, professor of astrophysics at the University of Rochester, published at NBC - March 27, 2020

"As with the threat of a pandemic, scientists who study climate change have beenwarning for decadesthat we are unprepared for what lies just over the horizon. Using the same kinds of mathematical tools deployed by epidemiologists, they have predicted the course of global warming, laid out its potential effects on the networks that make up civilization and told us what needs to be done to avoid calamity."

We've been living in a dream. We climb into jet planes and fly across continents, never giving the accomplishment a second thought. We drive to grocery stores, assuming the shelves will be stocked with endless boxes of food. And every day we plug our devices into the wall, sure that electricity will flow from the outlet. Other than the occasional hurricane or earthquake, we have lived our whole lives taking for granted that this thing we call "civilization" was a machine that could never fail.

It's time to wake up.

The international COVID-19 pandemic is many things, but its deepest impact may be fostering a recognition that this machine of civilization that we built is a whole lot more fragile than we thought. And that is why, in the long term, the coronavirus will one day be seen as a fire drill for climate change.

To understand the powerful connection between this pandemic and climate change, we must understand exactly what "modern civilization" means from a scientific point of view. For researchers, the global high-tech society we've built over the last 100 years is actually a series of networks laid on top of one another.

Thanks to Facebook, we're all familiar with what "social networks" look like: the links we have to our friends and then their friends and then their friends expanding outward to make a vast spider's web of connections. Modern civilization is a delicate layer cake of such networks, one stacked on top of each other.

The transportation network — roads, trains, ships and airplanes — moves our goods around. Energy networks — electric grids, oil and natural gas pipelines — deliver power where and when it's needed. Economic networks — banks, investment firms and brokers — keep money for trade circulating. And, as we are coming to see in stark relief, there's the health care network — doctors, nurses and hospitals — that manages the endless stream of sickness and injury.

So how robust or resilient are these networks? If you kick them hard, will they still function? COVID-19 is exposing just how complacent we've been in answering that question. Health officials across the country are watching in horror and desperation as their network gets overwhelmed. The fear the pandemic has caused is already pushing on the food distribution and economic networks.

Suddenly all of these systems that were invisible just a month ago are standing in front of us in sharp relief. Some are even blinking red with warning. The warnings must be taken seriously, as studies of multilayered networks show they can be fragile: Breaking links in one network cascades through the others like a fragmenting bullet ripping through a complex machine.

So what does any of this have to do with climate change? Like this pandemic, climate change is also going to push on the networks that make up our civilization. Unlike the pandemic, its effects will be long term, and there won't be a vaccine that can save us. ...
Read full report at NBC News

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