So much has been written and so much has been said about what the coronavirus means for climate change. And yes, the parallels between the coronavirus (COVID-19 pandemic) and climate change are too large and too numerous to ignore. The lessons learned must be applied to the longer-term action that climate change requires. COVID-19 is a glimpse into the bleak future that awaits us unless immediate action on climate follows the pandemic. The window of opportunity is closing rapidly.
Lessons from Coronavirus
As we move toward a world where climate change will present more frequent disruptions to what we think of as “normal life” (which Covid-19 is preparing us for), both new applications of big data, systems design, and technology, and transformations in social justice, urban planning and policy will be essential. — New York Times, Tatiana Schlossberg, June 4, 2020
- Returning to the status quo is not an option – the old normal is dead.
- The state is back – only governments have the power to tackle the pandemic.
- The cost of inaction (deaths, crippled economies, human suffering) is higher than the cost of taking action.
- Carbon dioxide emissions and pollution can decrease quickly and sharply.
- People can make rapid behavioural changes when their life is threatened.
- More teleworking and less commuting have reduced pollution from transportation.
- Has made people change their harmful behaviour.
- Data and scientific information are important to properly frame the challenge.
- We’re at a crossroads — decisions today will determine the future for decades to come.
- There are no apparent limits to spending to stop the coronavirus which is an existential threat.
- We’re all in this together — for the critical common good.
- Surge in public trust in government (in most countries).
- The economic shock from coronavirus points to over-reliance on fossil fuels.
- When we agree as a society that something is an emergency, we can come together to address it.
- Businesses understand they have an important role in managing a crisis.
- We can afford a post-pandemic Green New Deal.
- Massive reduction in highly-polluting air travel and cruise vacations.
- The emergence of virtual conferencing and online meeting platforms.
- The “working from home” phenomenon is here to stay.
- COVID-19 knows does not respect borders and demands coordinated international action.
But Not So Fast – Coronavirus will not save the Climate
Not bringing these lessons (at least some of them) from the coronavirus to our longer-term game plan to tackle climate change would be a missed opportunity. However, when it comes to climate it’s a lot more complicated. “Climate change is never going to be immediate and personal in the same way, and it remains a significant challenge…to create the same sense of urgency without the immediacy and the personal threat that Covid-19 poses,” writes Tatiana Schlossberg in her NYT piece.
Climate is a slow emergency, but in truth, it is far more serious and will be far more catastrophic than COVID-19 can ever be. Evidence on the ground—droughts, wildfires, flooding, heat waves—is more sporadic and localized, and shows up as extreme weather events throughout the globe. All the while, the climate change clock is endlessly ticking away.
Atmospheric CO² Levels
We pay little attention to the endless rise of CO² levels monitored at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii. The recent May 2020 readings of 417.1 parts per million are the highest ever recorded.
What will matter much more is the trajectory we take coming out of this situation. — Ralph Keeling, Scripps Institution of Oceanography
“People may be surprised to hear that the response to the coronavirus outbreak hasn’t done more to influence CO2 levels,” says Ralph Keeling, (Scripps Institution of Oceanography) in The Guardian. “But the buildup of CO2 is a bit like trash in a landfill. As we keep emitting, it keeps piling up. The crisis has slowed emissions, but not enough to show up perceptibly at Mauna Loa.”
Unless we can capitalize on this moment, “ the drop in emissions caused by the pandemic will remain just a blip unless governments get serious about building a cleaner, healthier and safer world,” John Sauven, the executive director of Greenpeace UK shared with The Guardian.
The following video shows the history of atmospheric CO², from 800,000 years ago until January 2019. More information is available here: https://www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/ccgg/tr….
Atmospheric CO² (ppm)
Published November 25, 2019
Standard YouTube Licence
Returning to previous normal is irresistible
The World Economic Forum reports that China’s air pollution ” has gone beyond pre-crisis levels for a 30-day period from mid-April.” As other economies return to business after the pandemic, the temptation to return to business-as-usual will be practically irresistible in spite of the constant drum-beating for a green recovery.
Just days ago, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) handed international airlines a blockbuster concession valued at about US$15 billion by agreeing to scale back the industry’s already “ridiculously weak” carbon offsetting scheme in response to the coronavirus pandemic, reports The Energy Mix. “The net result is that an industry that is one of the fastest-growing sources of global greenhouse gas emissions may end up paying nothing for its emissions until 2024.”
Examples such as these—and many more—make it crystal clear that the much-talked-about “green recovery” is not happening anytime soon. If it happens, and that’s a big if, it will not be a flat-out comprehensive recovery plan but more likely a piecemeal and fragmented roll-out after all other options have been exhausted. In other words, business as usual is just around the corner.
Commenting on the recent report that shows the last 12 months as the warmest ever on record, Greta Thunberg asks “Where are the breaking news? Where are the front pages? Where are the emergency meetings? Where are the adults?”
Climate cannot wait for the pandemic to dissipate or magically disappear. We are in a climate crisis but the message is just not getting across to the masses.
“One of the things we need is a Dr. [Anthony] Fauci of climate change, laying it all out there, straight, and in a manner that the public can take on board,” according to this NYT article. “Someone who is not using complicated ideas that confuse people, but is also not sugarcoating things and not hiding the facts, and is doing so in a way that has broad trust across political divides and geographic separation.”
This article was previously published in Below2C
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.