Living in Sweden, “corona tider”, or corona times, is a phrase you hear often when people are discussing, well, anything.
COVID-19 comes up every day. It controls and influences our choices, our planning. It affects more than physical health; it has infected economies and psychological well-being; it inflames social justice issues. So, let’s discuss the pandemic in the room and how it relates to climate issues.
Some of these suggest COVID is a telling forbearer of the types of drastic responses we will need in order to face the climate changes headed our way; that we should see this as a precursor to how we must think about coping with increased temperatures and unpredictably severe natural events that are occurring due to our march toward progress. These initially unintentional actions in the name of progress created conditions for global warming and continue to exacerbate natural climatic conditions and fluctuations.
Others report on how carbon emissions have been reduced by an average of 17% since COVID resulted in lockdowns across the world. Yet, even if this level of reduction in emissions is maintained, it is still not enough to get us below that threshold of parts per million (PPM) predicted as needed to limit global warming to between 1.5-2°C above preindustrial levels. Though, there exists an outrageous catch-22 in that the current reduction in air pollution can result in a surge in global warming.
The intrepid teen activist, Greta Thunberg, points to the global response to COVID as proof that governments and institutions are capable of swift action in the face of imminent threat, but have failed to mobilize similarly in response to the climate crisis. It is unspeakably unfortunate that these same governments and institutions do not and have not understood global warming as a comparably grave issue and mobilized in a similarly expeditious manner in response. Global warming is not an abstract future, like COVID it is also a present danger, one that compounds every day.
Still other news reports discuss how habitat fragmentation caused by human development of natural places force interactions between humans and animals, as well as between animals and animals, that would not occur in a less disturbed state. These conditions can provide opportunity for disease to exploit new hosts.
And still more media discuss the disproportionate effects on minorities from both climate and COVID. Areas with poor environmental health, such as industrial areas, are more likely to be home to minorities. These environments can lead to health issues that make it harder for those living there to ward off the effects of the virus. Scientific American reported stark statistics for Michigan, Illinois, and Louisiana where the black minority (15-30% of the states’ population) accounts for 40-60% of these states’ COVID-19 deaths.
I recently listened in on the Gordon Goodman Lecture organized by Stockholm Environmental Institute. Professor Joyeeta Gupta’s lively presentation discussed the COVID pandemic and the economics of sustainable development in the face of climate change. She spoke of “spin-off consequences” such as the digital divide that is amplified in these times of lockdown and adversely affecting the Global South. Professor Gupta argued for COVID economic relief packages as opportunities to focus on land use change as a healthy planet better provides for healthy humans.
While climate warming cannot be definitively seen as the cause of pandemics, the two are related in the ‘healthy planet, healthy people’ sense as seen in the example of habitat fragmentation above. The two are also related in what they affect. Both alter the efficacy of our present economies. Both further stress social injustices. A positive that may come from COVID’s rapid and conspicuous devastation is a shift in thinking about how urgently to deal with the ongoing climate crisis.
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