If you’re like me, you’ve probably been following updates on the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) every single day. Amidst all the content out there, from the sombre daily news to even light-hearted social media posts, one internet meme got me and my inner environmental advocate riled up. The meme simply stated “Climate Change needs to hire Coronavirus’s publicist.”
It’s true–we don’t panic about climate change as much as we do about coronavirus.
Yet, both crises are backed by scientific findings. Both crises are global threats that require urgent action.
Sure, the virus has brought more immediate and personal disruptions and suffering. But, if anything, the coronavirus crisis sheds light on the urgency to resolve issues that bind us on a global scale, regardless of whether they are slow-moving or not. I am not the only one to think about their interconnectedness–a quick search on “coronavirus and climate change” results in a slew of articles drawing connections between the two crises. The connections span a wide range including the shared root causes, forewarnings, and global disruptions that both present. Articles share a common message: Our ways of living are unsustainable and have resulted in both the increasing outbreak of infectious diseases and the severity of climate change. A mini round-up of articles sheds light on our interconnectedness and why our way of living is not sustainable.
For starters, most of the articles are quick to point out the positive short-term effects our response to COVID-19 has had on the planet, such as lower global air pollution levels from reduced travel–a result of city lockdowns and physical distancing practices that are measures used to combat the virus. Satellite images from the European Space Agency show reduced levels of nitrogen dioxide, a by-product of burning fossil fuels, across Europe as a result of travel restrictions. Time highlighted that in China, the world’s largest industrial powerhouse, carbon dioxide emissions declined by a quarter from a few weeks earlier in mid-February, giving residents the rare gift of blue skies.
This brings us to the next batch of articles, which point out how disruptive our daily lifestyle is to the planet. The Guardian discusses humanity’s destruction of biodiversity, which creates the conditions for new diseases to emerge. Activities like deforestation, hunting, offshore drilling, logging, and mining are examples where humans are coming into closer contact with animals and the pathogens and viruses they harbor within them. Closer contact promotes transmission of the viruses from animals to humans. Recall that coronavirus is a virus strain that affects mammals and birds with severe forms (MERS, SARS, COVID-19) transferred from animals to humans. Bloomberg takes the point of closer human-animal contact one step further by specifying how warmer habitats may have caused bats to alter their migration patterns, putting them nearer to humans.
Finally, the last batch of articles are those that are more forward-looking, arguing how coronavirus can provide an opening to plan for a healthier, greener future. In the short-run, it’s clear that we must stop the virus from spreading, support health care providers and hospitals, provide adequate healthcare to everyone, and provide income to workers and small businesses. Once the economy begins to function again, we want to create an economy that is sustainable, just, and cares for all of us. This is where we need to look at the pandemic for lessons. Greenbiz and Medium argue for climate change as a key consideration in plans on rebooting our economy. Going forward, government policies must create a sustainable equitable economy. Why would we want to bail out and lock in unsustainable systems and industries (think airlines and oil and gas companies) for another generation or more?
This handful of examples outlining the linkages of coronavirus and climate change point out their similarities and how the climate emergency can learn from the coronavirus emergency. The bottom line is that the two are not mutually exclusive and that solutions in fixing the effects of the pandemic should not equate to climate issues taking a back seat. Instead, the virus serves as a forewarning of what is to come if global warming keeps getting ignored. It is in this sense that coronavirus’s publicist IS climate change’s publicist.