COVID-19 and the Climate Crisis

COVID-19 and the Climate Crisis

By | May 18, 2020

I’M NOT SUPERSTITIOUS when it comes to the environment, as we rely entirely on environmental science and engineering for the facts upon which Sphera’s sustainability publications and external communications are based.

But the COVID-19 outbreak has had some side effects that make me wonder whether the Earth as a whole isn’t actually alive and conscious. With COVID- 19, it seems as if Mother Nature has sent us humans both an incentivized message and a dire warning—if we slow the speed at which we are polluting the Earth now, nature will reward us by restoring itself, supporting us and all of life as we know it for millennia to come, but if we fail to stop contaminating our environment, nature will make our lives much more difficult by bringing the planet back into equilibrium through other, more devastating means, such as creating the conditions that encourage widespread disease, mass displacement, severe flooding and drought and a long list of other unsettling consequences.

Without a doubt, the lingering COVID-19 outbreak has produced a reduction in global emissions as a direct result of our response to it: social distancing, working from home and the sharp reduction in personal travel, tourism, public gatherings and manufacturing. Some of these reductions might be countered with increases in emissions from home power consumption and by an effort to catch up after economic conditions bounce back. But, the point is, that we can, collectively and quickly, transform the way we behave.

Our response to the virus has saved lives, but it also is causing economic hardship, the loss of jobs and chaos. However critical we need to be about particular national responses to this outbreak, all things considered, humanity has responded decisively.

It is a reminder of how capable we can be as a species, how quickly we can change our behavior if our lives are threatened. When things shift back in the direction of normal, we need to put future threats into perspective. Despite the immediacy of the COVID-19 danger, the terrible consequences to humanity of this virus are nothing compared to what we know is on the horizon if we fail to tackle global warming as soon as possible and in the most holistic manner we can.

Beyond the quantitative results of the outbreak found in CO2 reductions and other measurable environmental improvements, many people have experienced a qualitative transformation as well.

Our response to the outbreak has forced people to cooperate to tackle the challenge, families have been reunified, as children stay home from school and parents work from home.

Although this has created tremendous economic hardship for some families, I wondered—as I saw in a yard and through a window at the beginning of the outbreak how parents were playing in the middle of the day with their children—about all the positive things that have come about as a result of this world event.

The reduction in traffic in Venice canals allowed fish to be visible in the clear water there. In most major cities, air pollution has dropped dramatically as people stay home. Is this what the world could look like if we took better care of it?

The immediacy of the COVID-19 outbreak was the main motivating factor here, but we need to take what we’ve learned from the experience and pull all our responsive skills back into play again… and soon. We need to be equally fear-driven in our response to global warming if we are going to prevent the most dangerous impacts of climate change.

As we have seen in the fight against this coronavirus, personal, organizational and governmental cooperation is critical to success. We need an equal measure of cooperation in fighting climate change. The only difference is that with climate change, we still have a chance within this decade to get ahead of the dangerous curve. We must prevent global warming from increasing beyond 1.5° Celsius (above preindustrial levels) if we are to have any chance of preventing the future disaster that is inevitable if we fail to act in time.

Niles Maxwell

Niles Maxwell is the content and communications manager for sustainability. He is also Spark’s senior writer. Working out of Sphera’s Stuttgart office since 2018, he translates complicated environmental engineering ideas into everyday language we all can understand.

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