COVID & the climate

Climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic are alarmingly similar crises that can be solved in similar ways if we act boldly

It is no question that we are living through an unprecedented crisis that has impacted everything from our social lives and livelihoods to the international policies and procedures observed by governments and businesses across the globe. This crisis has been creeping up for a while, and finally the scales are tipping. Action is being taken — but this action has come too late for too many. Moreover, this crisis has exacerbated many of the problems being observed both in our nation and abroad — global wealth inequality, lack of affordable or free healthcare, and historically disadvantaged local governments and communities with inadequate infrastructure are just a few. 

As you read this, your mind is almost certainly centered on the crisis around COVID-19, the disease caused by a form of coronavirus that is sweeping the globe and causing billions of people to live in states of social distance or quarantine. However, if I had written this former paragraph six months earlier, many would have brought climate change to the forefront of their minds. 

Unfortunately, the two crises are dangerously intertwined in what many global economists and scientists are alluding to as a positive feedback loop. As the stability of national institutions and systems, like healthcare and daily resources, are depleted and destabilized due to this global health crisis, communities become more vulnerable to future crises like extreme storms, wildfires and floods — and following such further threats, national institutions are further destabilized. The COVID-19 pandemic is an unprecedented crisis, but it will certainly not be the last our current global community will face in light of impending threats from climate change.

 Fortunately, there is a positive to these two crises being related — how we react to this first one as a global community can and will inform how we improve our responses to those incoming. The tipping of the scales on the COVID-19 crisis can serve as a warning to the new dangers at hand from the climate crisis, as well as provide precedents for how the global community can tackle collective problems. 

Last week, climate change researcher for the World Health Organization Arthur Wyns published an article on the World Economic Forum titled “How our responses to climate change and the coronavirus are linked.” Wyn is not alone in pointing out the relationship of these two global challenges: his sentiments and his findings have been echoed across news platforms as many international researchers and economists recognize what these crises have in common. 

Wyn argues that there are three major similarities between the two global crises: the role of equal access to healthcare in preparation and resilience building, the exacerbation of poverty by events associated with both crises and the critical nature of individual behavior change in reducing the severity of the two. 

First, it is evident from our current pandemic that strong healthcare systems have and continue to be critical assets to flattening the curve of COVID-19 cases, and Wyn points out that communities with stronger healthcare systems are more resilient and better prepared for the outcomes of climate-disasters like massive hurricanes and wildfires. 

Additionally, both crises act like megaphones for poverty and financial instability: where the effects of both are present, they worsen, and they spread to dimensions of society where they weren’t before. To put it simply, the most disadvantaged communities in our world bear the brunt of both crises, whether it is in lack of access to healthcare or lack of resources to recover from climate catastrophes. 

Finally, the role of altered social behaviors have proven critical to solving both. For COVID-19, these alterations came in the form of massive pushes for social distancing, self-quarantining and stay-at-home-orders. For climate change, the altered behaviors that are pushed often include reducing meat and energy consumption, reducing single-waste products created from petroleum-plastics and boycotting companies with environmentally-destructive practices. However, it is obvious that both require significant institutional and political alterations, as well as individual changes. 

In regards to how our institutions, political leaders and international networks respond to our current crisis, Wyn offers an optimistic outlook. With the aforementioned similarities in mind, the author pushes that our current crisis can help us understand how to better prepare for and address future crises of this magnitude. Now is obviously a time of great fear and uncertainty for the entire world, and it is a time to unite in order to protect what we care about most —  our families, our communities and our future as a global network. Climate change is an international crisis that threatens these very same things and one that also demands bold, international action.

Dealing with COVID-19 with the utmost urgency and international mobilization possible is our obvious priority in these dire times, but it is important to not lose sight of the climate crisis we still face as a global community. I urge all to take note of the radical steps being taken by governments, corporations and individual people in order to combat the pandemic and perhaps take away some lessons on how our globalized world can work through life-altering crises. 

As a young person deeply concerned about the stability of our planet and our international community in light of the COVID-19 crisis, I am finding myself even more terrified to think that this will be just the first of many global crises to come in my lifetime if we do not act on climate change. I sincerely hope this crisis becomes a historical moment of international unity in realizing how powerfully and boldly we can act to safeguard our futures.  


Wyn: How our responses to climate change and the coronavirus are linked

Hayes: Why the coronavirus outbreak is likely to help the fight against climate change

Figueres & Rivett-Carnac: Our approach to COVID-19 can also help tackle climate change

~James Duffy, Staff Writer~

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