The Covid-19 crisis could potentially be the catalyst that makes lasting progress in the climate crisis.
Global structure has shifted to a short lived, over consumption driven model, leaving the natural world no time to adjust. As Americans are confined to the four walls of their living rooms, it seems the natural world is actually healing. Covid-19’s forced isolation has allowed for natural order to take precedence. And more importantly, has allowed humans to finally recognize collective consequences regarding climate change.
The Earth is healing
China, the origin of the Covid-19 pandemic, is reporting noticeable reductions in air pollution. As worldwide mass transportation remains at a virtual standstill, industrialized cities are also seeing drastic drops. As one of the most polluted cities globally, Delhi’s air quality dropped from ‘severely unhealthy’ to ‘satisfactory.’ The river Ganges has been classified as ‘fit for drinking’ after decades. Internationally, there have been declines in carbon emissions as a result of global stay-at-home orders. Animals have been spotted in predominantly human establishments. As consumerism is temporarily halted, declines in single use plastics are contributing to cleaner oceans. Metropolitan residents, normally ingrained to the noises of the city, are hearing the chirping of birds. The sudden dismissal of noise pollution (because of lack of transportation) has contributed to less vibrations in the earth’s crust.
Covid-19 vs climate crisis response similarities
Of course, this is not without acknowledging the utter destruction the crisis brought prior to these environmental improvements. However, there are ubiquitous parallels between the Covid-19 response (within the US) and the climate crisis response. Although different in nature, both present serious threats to global public health. And both advance on an exponential growth scale. Meaning, just like the person-to-person transmission of Covid-19, the climate crisis progresses with small incremental changes over time. For instance, the consistent rise in sea levels, contributing to extinction of entire ecosystems over years. In regards to Covid-19, it took only two months to reach the first 100,000 cases worldwide, 11 days for the next 100,000 and only four days for the third 100,000 cases. Hence the exponential growth factor in nature.
Through all of January, and the majority of February, all Covid-19 cases outside of China were seen as low risk. The seemingly scattered number of initial cases led most governments to waste favorable chances to mitigate risk early on. As a result, public health officials (across the US) have been scrambling for weeks as the curve exponentially grows.
Similarly to the climate crisis, Covid-19 deniers reject the facts, dismiss the dangers of the virus and fail to recognize the long term health implications. Despite the obvious facts behind observing social distancing to lessen the spread, thousands are purposely defying orders claiming the orders are a violation of civil liberties. Correspondingly, there is an overlap in ‘science denial’ among the climate crisis conversation. Of course, with climate change, there are strong political and economic implications as special interests openly influence their supporters. However, in the parallels of the both kinds of ‘fact deniers’ lies a learning opportunity.
A teachable opportunity on dangers of the climate crisis
The principle of exponential growth requires us to think conceptually long term. Similarly to the initial spread of Covid-19 within the US, the vast majority largely underestimated the risk of global climate change, despite the science. For instance, scientists have warned the public of long term implications of rising CO2 levels since the 1960s. The constant exponential growth of carbon emissions will ultimately contribute to more shorter seasons, flooding, intense storms and rising sea levels. Besides the current Covid-19 pandemic, the reality remains; exponential growth in potential climate change is absolutely the next largest threat to global public health. Equivalently to the initial cases of Covid-19, it is difficult for individuals to acknowledge the (initial) small consistent rises in carbon emissions or regular dependence on plastics for example. However, as the last two months have shown, neglecting those small ‘insignificant’ developments can result in devastation long term.
What can average people do?
Now obviously, a complete economic shutdown is not a feasible solution to help fight climate change long term. And of course, there are fears of sudden influx of carbon emissions once major economies are open to quickly jump start the nation. However, this pandemic provides an opportunity to inspire lasting change. We have witnessed just how quickly the planet can mend solely from humanities actions.
What we can do moving forward, is rely evidence based research provided by experts. In trusting the professionals, and subsequently providing them with resources, safeguarding the public from the next global disaster will be achievable. Prioritizing the people in public health disasters should be priority number one. Those in cities with high levels of air pollution are highest at risk for contracting Covid-19. The goal is to create healthy, lasting environments centered around collective humanity. To economically rebuild post pandemic, must emphasize public health and protection. Unfortunately, public health is now a political choice. The next generations must continue to choose wisely.