The coronavirus is an international pandemic that has been going on for over a year at this point. In the beginning, the response to this pandemic was not only drastic, it was also rapid. Flights were grounded, mandatory lockdowns were put into place, and the economy was practically shut down. I remember being sent home from college in the middle of the semester. Both of my parents started working from our dining room table and my classes were held through my computer screen. It all happened so fast.
From a year ago until today, the news coverage on the ongoing pandemic is vast and constant. The coronavirus is a serious global issue, and the continually rising death toll is reported daily. The results of this crisis are undoubtedly devastating. But due to our planet having simultaneous crises in one time period, many people disregard our other global concern: climate change.
The largest distinction between climate change and coronavirus is time. The coronavirus bloomed quickly and the world seemed to spring up to meet it and attempt to shrink it down. There was a clear cause and effect: this respiratory virus transmitted easily, so taking actions such as wearing masks, social distancing, washing hands, and quarantining were clear. Hindering the spread of coronavirus wasn’t easy for the world, but it was doable. In contrast, climate change is a multi-decade problem. It didn’t bloom out of a market in Wuhan, it has been growing slowly but surely for years. The gradual warming of the globe does not feel urgent, nor does it fill the headlines every day.
This pandemic is glued to my eyes as soon as I wake up in the morning and open Twitter: rising death tolls and job losses and new studies on how quarantine has affected mental health. The weight of this virus is in front of our faces at all times and evidently fills our minds. Because climate change builds slowly, becoming a catastrophic threat over years and years, it is perceived as a less urgent issue.
I do not believe that the world was too drastically reactive to the coronavirus pandemic. This infectious virus was detrimental to millions of people’s health. What I do believe is that climate change should also be urgently taken care of. More people should be scared of it, especially policymakers who hold the power to control it.
This pandemic has proven that the world is capable of making drastic changes. If we responded to the threat of climate change as frantically as we responded to the coronavirus, we could be on our way to a zero-carbon future. According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 4.5 to 7 million premature deaths occur per year due to low quality air pollution. As temperatures rise, these numbers will only look worse as an outcome of climate change. This kind of news rarely makes headlines and unfortunately, successful obfuscation campaigns funded by fossil fuel industries have halted the advancement of healing the planet. There is a clear connection between the economy and emission rates. A NASA map shows that China’s rapid response to the coronavirus resulted in a large drop in nitrogen dioxide air pollution. This was due to the decline in economic activity during lockdown. Stanford Professor, Marshall Burke, believes that this lockdown could have possibly reduced the number of premature deaths due to air pollution. China’s overall mortality rate may have even decreased in those two months of economic shutdown.
Our world needs to act quickly in terms of structural change in order to prevent millions of premature deaths in the future caused by fossil fuels or the consequences of a warmer planet. Many politicians argue that global emission cuts are too costly or unrealistic, but they are necessary actions now in order to prevent an irreversible climate crisis.
The coronavirus response demonstrated that rapid emission reductions are possible. This pandemic is scary and is unquestionably affecting the entire world. If we don’t act in a similar fashion to climate change, the consequences of climate change will become a lot worse. Perhaps with the right decision of the people in power, our economy can transition to a fossil-fuel-free world.
We need to treat climate change like what it truly is: a crisis. A global dilemma that, left untouched, will turn catastrophic in the near-future.