By: Gardawheh Gad Boe
In December 2019, researchers in China identified a deadly new coronavirus strain that had infected dozens of people and was recognized by the World Health Organization as a pandemic, 11 March 2020. Borders slammed shut. Global trade stalled and markets crashed. In a matter of weeks, the momentum behind efforts to jointly confront climate change essentially vanished. Countries have locked down cities, banned international travel, and shut down their economies in a desperate effort to slow the outbreak.
As the COVID-19 outbreak wreaks fear and havoc across the world, it’s easy to forget about the climate crisis. The current and urgent focus properly needs to be ironing the curve, saving lives, slowing the pandemic, and then restarting the economies left in shambles. By that point, few countries might experience slow growth to help slow global warming.
This is to say, global emissions are falling, as they did during precipitous economic declines in the past. However, it should be noted that carbon dioxide can stay in the atmosphere for centuries, meaning the total concentration will continue to rise even if we’re producing less of it and emissions will bounce back as soon as economies do. So, the threat of climate change will remain with deeper fears about our health, financial future, and other hidden dangers.
With the current breakdowns in international and even intra-national, the COVID-19 outbreak offers a severe warning for our climate future. Climate change is a global problem and every country needs to nearly eliminate emissions. But they don’t all have the same economy to do so. Regions like Europe that pumped out huge shares of historic emissions have less to lose by curbing them than regions like Africa that need faster economic growth to reduce poverty.
There are certain degrees that can be drawn between the current COVID-19 pandemic and climate change crises our world is facing. They both require a global and local response that needs to be guided by science and to protect the most vulnerable among us, and all require the political will to make fundamental changes when faced with existential risks.
Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic may lead to a deeper understanding of the ties that bind us all on a global scale and could help us get to grips with the largest public health threat of the century, the climate crisis. Some of these health impacts have a clear climate change signature, such as Extreme weather or the spread of vector-borne diseases like Typhoid fever or Cholera. For others, the connection between COVID-19 pandemic and climate change is less clear cut. There is one thing that they have in common and that is, they hit the poorest and the most vulnerable the hardest. They act as Poverty multipliers, forcing families into extreme poverty.
For example, many of the people of West-point, Liberia who have been affected badly by sea erosion which was caused by climate change are yet to be relocated to a better and suitable place for living in Liberia. On the other hand of the COVID-19, the poorest people in locked down countries and cities are the ones who have been badly affected by starvation.
The ongoing pandemic shows how inequality is a major barrier in ensuring the health and wellbeing of people. For example, the health threat of the novel coronavirus is affecting more cities and people exposed to higher levels of pollution, which are most often people living in poorer areas. The same is true for the health impacts of climate change, with one of its major causes, the burning of fossil fuels, also adding pollution to the air and excessively impacting the health of those in poverty.
The coronavirus ( COVID-19) has forced us to dramatically change our behavior in order to protect ourselves and those around us, to a degree most of us have never experienced before. Even though climate change presents a slower, and long-term health threat, an equally dramatic and sustained shift in behavior will be needed to prevent unrepairable damage.
Crises like these offer an opportunity for a regained sense of shared humanity, in which people realize that the health and safety of their loved ones, their community, country, and fellow global citizens matter the most. Both the climate crisis and this unfolding pandemic threaten this one thing we all care about.
The threat of climate change that is driving global action against it has not gone away. Unless we address this challenge, we will all be worse off; and the longer we take in addressing the challenge, the worse it will be. Just as COVID-19 requires us to act now to save lives in the next few weeks, climate change requires action now to avert a future global catastrophe. The COVID-19 pandemic is a signal of climate disasters to come and the resilience we need to build into our systems – including health – to deal with what we know will be the bad impacts of climate change.
When we eventually overcome the COVID-19 pandemic, the focus on recovery after the pandemic should be to hold on to that sense of shared humanity, maximizing social and economic growth, jobs, and ensuring this includes everyone, promote health, equity, and environmental protection.
About the Author:
Gardawheh Gad Boe is a Geologist and an Environmentalist currently occupying the position as an environmental intern at Environment, Health, and Safety Lab in Casablanca, Morocco. You can contact me via email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Main Photo: Military Times