Coronavirus and Climate Change
It may be that Mother Nature has done humanity a favor in sending the coronavirus pandemic, Covid 19. Nature has delivered a plague that threatens everyone, and is a scientific and political problem without easy answers. Government and private responses to Covid19 have been fumbling and small, as was true with earlier pandemics including the 1918 flu which killed 50 million people. We have no clear road to control or cure, despite many scientists focusing on stopping the ravages of Covid19 .
No doubt the current coronavirus edition is a serious problem, but it is dwarfed by natural systems’ deteriorations from man’s overuse and abuses of his planet. Industrial civilization has already heated the planet and made parts of it hotter, drier, subject to more powerful storms and less inhabitable. The good news is human ingenuity , and many scientists are searching for answers to new conditions of heat, water and weather which will cause further erosions of natural systems. We optimists trust that a few good men and women will create ways to limit climate change impacts, and will also create political conditions encouraging worldwide environmental cooperation to implement those innovations.
The present record is not very good – despite treaties and many speeches, humankind has not managed to handle climate change effectively. Lack of strong international coordination and enforcement has encouraged countries free to pursue narrow objectives, such as destroying the Amazon rain forest to extend cropland, which damage all of us.
So far, humankind is doing a better job with coronavirus threats. We have slowed the spread of the disease through a series of national and international restrictions on travel. Individuals, particularly those who who are potentially contagious with the virus, are encouraged to “shelter in place” and to limit face-to-face contacts. There is some vehement opposition from critics of to government Covid 19 mandates intended to protect the public, but those objections will seem progressively more ridiculous as the death toll from Covid 19 rises.
There are a few benefits to the environment from Covid19, such as new awareness of the costs of our meat-rich diets. Meat-packing plants are efficient Covid19 centers – butchering and preparing animal flesh for human consumption is now dangerous. As presently designed, it requires close contact among factory workers and makes the spread of disease easier. Americans’ meat heavy diets put unnecessary strains on our fields and waters.
Reluctance of public and political leaders to listen to, understand, and act on science’s words about how human conduct is making the world a more dangerous place. Climate science’s decades’-old warnings of the effects of higher greenhouse gas levels have been mostly ignored. Climate science details some costs of industrial civilization’s careless use of earth’s atmosphere and waters, and of the prices we are starting to pay for our short-sighted consumption. On the positive side, with President Trump as the glaring exception, world leaders have generally responded intelligently to coronavirus threats. Many countries have effective rules discouraging travel and normal social and business contacts.
Climate change is a slower, but much more serious problem than Covid19, which does not present the immediate, gut-check threats we see in coronavirus. It is like the difference between the quick destructive power of a tsunami and the greater, much slower power of a expanding glacier. Our challenge is 1) to persuade decision makers and ordinary citizens that climate changes humankind causes are a greater threat than pandemics and 2) to use what we learn from fighting pandemics to limit the damages humankind causes to natural systems.