Hans Väre: Virologists retraining as climate specialists

Sakala Editor-in-Chief Hans Väre.
Sakala Editor-in-Chief Hans Väre. Source: Olev Kenk/ERR

Are you tired of being an energy expert and virologist? Prepare to become a climate specialist, Hans Väre recommends in Vikerraadio's daily comment.

Tell you the truth, I'm starting to get a little tired of intensive learning.

First, I had to get up to speed on the peculiarities of the Wuhan virus. Luckily, it has largely joined the ranks of run-of-the-mill upper respiratory tract infections by now, while the only thing they had in common three years ago was that just as upper respiratory tract viruses do not restrict themselves to the upper middle class, the Wuhan virus did not stay in Wuhan but quickly conquered the globe.

The virus forced people to stay home under pain of death, put millions in the hospital and has killed almost seven million people by today. To rise to the challenge of the global threat, we tried to get to the bottom of the protective properties of masks, the effectiveness of vaccines and the differences between mutations.

Next, gas pipelines and substations exploded. If until then many people didn't even know the price of a kilowatt-hour of electricity, we now argued over which type of managed generation capacity to develop, the advantages of a floating regasification and storage unit, and how to cover peak demand in November where Estonia is that place where the sun doesn't shine. Those who had long since forgotten high school science classes – that is to say almost everyone –recalled the difference between a megawatt and a megawatt-hour, with roof area measured in solar panels for both private and public buildings.

Just when we were starting to get to grips with energy, Russia showered Ukraine in bombs, meaning we were in for yet another training. At what angle does a Javelin missile hit its target? How for do Bayraktar drones fly? Why is having a HIMARS key and what is the different between a tank and a self-propelled howitzer? Where are Luhansk, Donetsk and Kherson and how to knit a camouflage net? Questions now ranged from military technology to geography to handicraft.

Round two of the economics course kicked off simultaneously. If until then, Euribor had been so tiny that one had to reach for a magnifying glass to even see it, loan interests suddenly exploded out of people's wallets. The only things that soared even higher were all manner of prices, while the reason for the hike remained rather unclear in more than a few cases. Meanwhile, the cryptocurrency bubble imploded, with both the stock exchange and real estate giving off an uneasy air.

Of course, none of this studious studying made Irja Lutsars or Rainer Sakses out of people. Some ended up like village idiots before them of whom it was whispered that they had several higher educations and it was probably all that studying that caused them to lose the plot in the first place. They started thinking for themselves. However, most of us ended up picking up useful tidbits of knowledge without which the effects of crises would be immeasurably worse both for individuals and society as a whole.

I sometimes feel that if I have to dig my way into another area I know nothing about, my head will be so full that I will forget how to tie my shoelaces or hold my breath under water. Therefore, I perfectly understand people who are reluctant to undertake another crash course in the near future. Nor are we too keen on brushing up when it comes to recent examples. It would be swell to have the exams behind us and time to just look at the clouds for a while.

Alas, a new lesson is already on the horizon. For example, do you know what an atmospheric river is? I would imagine not many Estonians have ever heard about something like that. But everyone in California knows this winter that an atmospheric river causes many times the normal amount of precipitation, which in turn lead to floods that destroy buildings and cars and wash babies away from the arms of their mothers. California is also suffering from draught... while it's flooding.

That is but one example of the effects of climate change that will reach us one way or another, and sooner rather than later. Of course, we have been feeling the effects of our warming climate for some time, with Europe's energy crisis this summer also partly the result – shortage of precipitation disrupted Norwegian hydropower and caused nuclear power plants in France to be switched off due to low levels of cooling water.

There will be myriad aspects we will need to learn, whether in the form of weather phenomena, the threat of invasive species or novel city planning needs. And this time, we better strap in for a master's degree instead of a few weeks' crash course.

We might, of course, keep telling ourselves that man-made climate change doesn't exist despite consensus among 97 percent of the scientific community, while I do not really think ignorance will take us far. If we're too tired to study and prepare, we'll just have to learn the lesson the hard way.


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Editor: Kaupo Meiel, Marcus Turovski

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