FLASHBACK: German health minister draws 'analogy' between Covid restrictions and what is necessary to 'control climate change'

"We have to accept restrictions if we want to control climate change," Germany's Federal Minister of Health said.

Libby Emmons Brooklyn NY
Germany's Federal Minister of Health Karl Lauterbach sees similarities between how the Covid pandemic was centrally tackled and managed and how climate change should be addressed by governments and citizens. Lauterbach advocated for strict pandemic mitigation measures and slammed what he saw as the UK's lackadaisical approach. 

In a 2022 interview, Lauterbach was asked about another interview he gave, in which he said (via translation) "that future climate policy and the climate crisis would require measures like this," those that were inspired by pandemic mitigation efforts. These include, the interviewer said in German, restrictions on personal freedom such as those in the fight against the pandemic.

Lauterbach responded that what he meant by that was that, during the pandemic, he could travel less than he wanted to, "because the travel restrictions are necessary so that we don't get the virus from a region with high prevalence... transferred to another region. I have to do without many things I would like to do because it would be harmful to public health," he said.

"So I give up my freedom to fight the pandemic," Lauterbach said. "If I now put the climate crisis forward," he continued, "there are now two ways that you can see it." 

Lauterbach said that one of the going ideas is that the global population will be able to do whatever they please but with green technology as the fuel as opposed to fossil fuels and that this mitigation technique, this sustainable fuel source, will be enough.

But he does not believe this will be enough. In fact, he said, "we have to accept restrictions if we want to control climate change."

"This will include, for example," he continued, "not traveling as much as anyone could [bear] it. It will also include voluntarily giving up one or the other consumption." But he stressed that "these restrictions on freedom are voluntary restrictions.

However, he went on to say that there were restrictions on freedom that "comes as a result of the law," due to the pandemic. 

"There can also be restrictions on freedom that come indirectly," he said, such as "the prices for certain things that are harmful to the climate are higher. And so from my view, there is an analogy between overcoming such a pandemic and that climate restrictions." Restrictions of this nature were also touted in a blog on the World Economic Forum, which drew a similarity between the public's compliance with pandemic restrictions and their likely compliance with similar or additional measures as a means to take personal responsibility for addressing climate change.

At the WEF's annual meeting in Davos, climate change mitigation was front and center of much of the conversation, with Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research Director Johan Rockstrom saying "scientifically this is not a climate crisis. We are now facing something deeper. Mass extinction, and air pollution undermining ecosystem functions, really putting humanity’s future at risk. This is a planetary crisis."

When the interviewer pointed out that the pandemic-era restrictions were not voluntary, Lauterbach said that his analogy between pandemic restrictions and those that could be implemented for climate change was that those put in place for climate change mitigation would be more of an "appeal" to the public rather than a dictate.

The idea is that governments or experts could "appeal" to the public to take fewer business trips, for example, and encourage people to restrict their movements not just through prohibitive pricing measures, but by encouraging people to impose restrictions on themselves. The efforts to dictate climate change as an existential threat have been so effective that many young people believe man-made climate change is the "most serious threat" facing them and the world today.

Lauterbach also said that appealing to companies could be a useful tool, encouraging companies to keep people from commuting by installing home offices, or work-from-home provisions, such as was done during the pandemic.

"And so the analogy here concerns the volunteer," he said, noting that he "would not have ruled out something for us to get into a situation in the climate crisis where we actually have to ban one or the other."

The interview noted that this is what critics of Lauterbach's comments fear, that the pandemic restrictions, and the way those were enforced, would be used as a "blueprint" for climate change mitigation-inspired restrictions.

"These are still conspiracy theories," Lauterbach said.

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