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Climate Crisis in the Time of a Pandemic

By: Helena Wolenski

In a period of uncertainty and misfortune, people often look to small glimmers of hope to cope with the seemingly dark times. COVID-19 has been indiscriminate as it devastates the lives of people all over the world. We sit and wait for any kind of news to come out about the end of this nightmare. But what we hadn’t seen coming was the environmental impact that it’s had in the last several weeks. Amid the lockdowns and the complete isolation, fossil fuel consumption and carbon dioxide emissions have fallen drastically in some of the largest carbon emitting areas in the world. An 18 percent decrease in China’s emissions between February and March saved them 250 million metric tons of carbon pollution. Reports of decreasing power demands in the European Union project an avoidance of 400 million metric tons of carbon pollution this year. One of the largest sources of greenhouse gas comes from transportation, and with the closing of all nonessential businesses and many people working remotely, the usual 23 percent of global carbon emissions from transportation could fall significantly. Despite these encouraging statistics, we know historically that the rebound from these sorts of events can make things worse. Following the financial crisis of 2008, carbon dioxide emissions increased 5.9 percent to offset the 1.4 percent decrease seen during the downturn in the economy. Unlike this crisis, however, the current pandemic has had a much higher cost on human life. The concern for health and security will surely take precedent over the concern for global change. This shift in focus and effort away from environmental conservation could not have come at a worse time. The turn of the decade was supposed to be an important year for climate change. The United Nations’annual climate change summit was set to take place this November, but with the pressing concern of the coronavirus, it has been postponed until next year. Globally, leaders have been under pressure to relax their enforcement and compliance with federal monitoring. In the United States, the Trump administration has agreed to not penalize companies that fall short of their reporting emissions requirement. Car emissions rules have also been rescinded, which was a critical part of the United States’ efforts to lower greenhouse gasses during the Obama administration in 2012.Every government is facing tremendously difficult decisions. What governments must think about, though, is that their responsibility to protect our health and well-being includes the protection of the environment that we live in. The coronavirus pandemic has been a devastating time for people all over the world, so saying that it has been “good” for the environment seems morally wrong. However, we have been given the chance to see how impactful we as humans are on the environment. We have the opportunity to make mindful decisions about our lifestyles that can result in the betterment of tomorrow. It is important to remember that we are part of nature, not separate from it, and that our destructive actions will ultimately hurt us.  Order in the world will soon be restored, but we must remain active in our sustainable efforts to protect our home.  

Cover photo courtesy of Helena Wolenski