COVID-19 and Climate Change

“Nature is healing” memes showcase an important reality we’re seeing during this pandemic: the way we live is a problem. And it’s not just that there are almost 8 billion humans on this planet now stuck at home. Our economic and political systems make it impossible for us to thrive and live in harmony with the environment.

The United States completely fumbled its response to coronavirus, and as a result, a record number of Americans are filing for unemployment and nearly 600,000 are sick. The stock market is a no-go and all Donald Trump can think about is reopening the country. The problems that are highlighted under COVID-19 are, among others, inadequate funding or coverage for essential services like healthcare, income inequality, racial injustice, and the reliance on big corporations for economic stability. If we had a system that worked, a) Congress wouldn’t be scrambling to pass new social welfare bills, and b) this pandemic wouldn’t have hit us so hard in the first place. 

On the upside, carbon dioxide emissions have temporarily declined. Water is clear and air breathable in places it hasn’t been in decades. Many of us are waking up and realizing that nature is invaluable to our mental and physical wellbeing. These are good things, but they won’t last. In fact, it’s far more likely that things will get much worse. 

According to the CDC, climate change will increase the vectors that cause and spread infectious diseases. It’ll gesture in more allergies, mental health issues, and starvation across vulnerable populations and communities. The coronavirus is far from the beginning or end of pandemics. 

So when this pandemic is over, we need to do more than return to business-as-usual. We need real change. We needed it decades ago. April is Earth Month, and 2020 is the 50th anniversary of the first Earth Day in 1970. The goal was to see bipartisan political action on environmental issues. To make a real change. It’s half a century later and we’ve spiraled further into irreversible anthropogenic climate change.

The way we should solve this pandemic is the same way we need to solve climate change. We need to alter our systems to put people, and the environment, before profit, utilize mitigation before falling back on adaptation, and most of all, work together as a global community. Collective problems demand collective actions, and COVID-19 has shown that a unified response can be extremely powerful and effective. We can be impactful in the smallest ways. Selfish actions kill and generous actions save. We’re also learning that we need to protect our essential workers, that companies can and should use their might for good, and that there are far more important things than the Dow Jones. 

We need to do the same thing with climate change. Our progress as a society can’t come to a halt once we’re on the downturn of the case curve. That means reaching UN Sustainable Development Goals, to start. Also needed: phasing out fossil fuels to reach net-zero emissions, stopping the international wildlife trade, moving toward a circular economy, restoring the health of broken ecosystems, and prioritizing our most vulnerable. 

SARS-CoV-2 is to us what climate change is to us on a much longer, deadlier, and consequential scale. It’s an opportunity to step up. If we don’t act in a timely manner, many, many people will die. Worse, we might lose our humanity in the ecological breakdown.