COVID-19 and Climate Change
Author: Kwickham | Category: Environment | Health | Date: 04-04-2020
The Coronavirus Pandemic and Climate Change - What Can We Learn?
Both the coronavirus and climate change are significant threats to humans. However, the coronavirus pandemic is playing out on a much shorter time scale. There are many lessons to be learned in both directions – how the coronavirus response can help us act (faster) to mitigate climate change, and how lessons from climate action can help us respond to coronavirus.
Gernot Wagner, a climate economist at New York University, called the virus “climate change on warp speed.” The emergency of the virus is playing out over weeks and months whereas climate change spans years, decades, and likely centuries.
Kim Cobb, a climate scientist at the Georgia Institute of Technology said: “Both demand early aggressive action to minimize loss. Only in hindsight will we really understand what we gambled on and what we lost by not acting early enough.”
The following are some thoughts on the intersection and similarities between our responses to coronavirus and global warming.
Some people didn’t believe it was real at first - or didn’t take it seriously enough.
There are tipping points in the progression beyond which it is really hard to recover from. Early action is important. The response may look like an overreaction at the time, but in reality, hindsight will show that stronger and earlier action should have been taken. In the moment, “It looks like nothing is wrong until it is too late, and everything is wrong’.
In both cases we know that: Truth matters. Science matters. Leadership matters.
Individual Action is required – it takes all of us to do the same things (and the right things) that we know will work to get us out of the mess we are in. The things we need to do are quite different to slow the spread of coronavirus and mitigate climate change, but disaster would ensue if individuals failed to act.
Local Government role – local governments are at the forefront of taking meaningful action quickly and directly in their own communities. Often, states and nations will follow their lead. Examples:
- Santa Clara County Shelter in place order along with 6 other counties was the first in the nation.
- Reach codes for new building construction may pave the way for statewide all electric building code at the next code cycle.
State role – California has been a leader in both climate and coronavirus response. “As California goes, so goes the nation”.
National role and policy - As much and as important as city, county and state actions are, it is not enough. Nations must also participate actively to set policy, coordinate response, and ensure consistency.
International cooperation – Although we have not seen it demonstrated very successfully in either the pandemic or climate change, countries could be extremely valuable to each other in loaning, donating or selling: services, technologies, supplies, equipment, knowledge and best practices to each other. Our ‘us vs. them’ mentality that is a significant ‘feature’ of being human does not lend itself to cross border assistance – especially in times of crisis. But perhaps the ‘us’ could be reframed to ‘Humanity’ instead of Californians, Americans, Chinese, and Italians. We are human. That could doom us or save us.
Role of businesses and technology companies – Whether businesses step up on their own or are required to by governments, they have huge capabilities and resources to bring to the table. For example, supply chains, manufacturing capabilities, energy choices, construction of new buildings, and access to capital.
There will be massive suffering – and death.
It can unify us (or divide us).
We know what needs to be done – and it turns out, it’s not that difficult or complicated.
But it will be difficult and complicated – and expensive.
Both are pandemic. They affect all humans – some worse than others. Vulnerable populations need protection. Essential workers are often not paid well or have difficult working conditions.
Some experience only mild (or no symptoms) while others will die (sometimes alone and separated from their families).
Breathing is super important. COVID attacks our lungs. Climate change affects the air itself (oxygen, pollution).
The fever of a person battling COVID-19 and the global warming of our planet are defense mechanisms – the immune system at work – to defend itself against a formidable opponent.
Each person must fight the virus alone (and internalize the implications of inaction on warming the earth), but we must also work together as one species to solve it. Working together, communicating and maintaining social trust are all hugely important. The internet is (or can be) awesome for this.
The threat is invisible and very small and carried in the air – coronavirus and CO2 molecules.
The COVID-19 vaccine is like technology for solving climate change - big promises, under development, and too late to save many from suffering and death.
We have proven that we can do a lot really quickly in an emergency. Some countries have controlled the virus. Greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution have dropped measurably. People are getting work done without commuting or flying. Perhaps many lives will be saved or extended because of the improved air quality. Likely it is even more lives than could be saved from Coronavirus when looked at over the scale of a decade.
It is possible to address climate change quickly as well – when we decide it is important enough.
April 2, 2020
Subsequent to writing these thoughts I found a few podcasts and videos that have elucidated similar patterns (and describe them more deeply and eloquently). Here they are. Worth a listen/watch.
CNN Bill Weir video (3 min.)