The Coronavirus Is Cause for Panic, We Have More To Fear From the Climate Crisis

by Monica Medina and Miro Korenha, founders and publishers of Our Daily Planet 

Of all our recent musings, the piece that garnered the most interest was one that we wrote wondering why people find coronavirus so frightening, but when it comes to climate change, most people are nonplussed.

The parallels between the coronavirus outbreak and climate change, and our collective global and U.S. handling of it, are striking.  There are four ways these two threats resemble one another frighteningly closely.  And these similarities ought to give us all pause and motivate us to redouble our efforts to address the urgency of the looming climate crisis.

First, both COVID-19 and the effects of climate change will impact not only our health but also our economic prosperity and our way of life — everywhere.  And the people who will suffer the most are the ones who are already vulnerable and who need our help the most.

The coronavirus is making people sick, but so is climate change, and on a much larger scale.  The list of health impacts goes on and on — from heat strokes to asthma, to infectious diseases like Zika and Lyme Disease that will strike hundreds of millions of people due to the rise of ticks and mosquitos. In addition, our addiction to fossil fuels (which is driving climate change) causes an extra 9 million premature deaths around the world each year.

Lawmakers are currently (and rightfully) worried about the state of our economy as a result of the coronavirus but its threat will pale in comparison to how a rapidly warming planet will impact the global and domestic economy.  For instance, the Fourth National Climate Assessment in 2018 estimated that,

[w]ith continued growth in emissions at historic rates, annual losses in some economic sectors are projected to reach hundreds of billions of dollars by the end of the century—more than the current gross domestic product (GDP) of many U.S. states.”

Click here for an interactive version of this chart       Source: Fourth National Climate Assessment

These health and economic shocks could strike anyone–just ask the people whose homes burned in California or the farmers whose livestock washed away in Iowa. For people who already lack sufficient healthcare coverage or live at or below the poverty line, sudden health or economic shocks cannot be sustained without the help of the federal government.

Second, the signs are all bad and getting worse — fast. The science and the facts indicating that climate change is disrupting societal and natural systems are clear and these threats don’t recognize nationality or political beliefs. Just this week the World Meteorological Organization rang the alarm on climate change… AGAIN.  How many times must scientists tell us that we need to take drastic action to both contain the source of the threat as well as prepare for what is ahead? For both climate change and coronavirus, the United States has consistently ignored the warnings of experts and written off their pleas as “alarmism.”

The UNIPCC’s “1.5 Degree” report, the Fourth Climate Assessment and the World Meteorological Organizations recent reports tell us all we need to know.  And while public opinion surveys reveal that people increasingly see climate change as real, fare fewer believe it’s affecting them.  But as coronavirus is teaching us, even if it doesn’t directly impact you as an individual, what you do can make things worse for others, and those others could be your grandparents or your grandchildren.

Third, the longer we wait to take action the worse the threat will become and the less we can do to stop it. Delaying preparedness measures and taking the threat seriously will be far more costly and cost needless lives in the long run, for both our response to COVID-19 as well as climate change.

Fourth, only global collective action will suffice.  And we are all in this together — everyone on the planet.  We can say climate change is mostly caused by China — the world’s leading greenhouse gas emitter — just as it was the place where coronavirus began. But that fact will not change the spread of climate’s impacts to the entire planet — from the poles to the tropics and everywhere in between.  No one will be spared the negative impacts of climate change just because China produces the most emissions.

The U.S. is the world’s second-largest polluter, and just like coronavirus, our own national failures won’t be contained to our borders. Our lack of necessary action will impact the populations of other nations who will suffer from the withdrawal of our leadership.

Ultimately, the only difference is the time frame of these disasters.  While coronavirus will run its course over the coming weeks and months and will take a year or two to completely defeat, the climate crisis will spool out over decades. As young people around the world have been begging the rest of us to recognize, time is running out to get ahead of climate change, to head off the worst impacts and to “flatten the curve” of death and devastation. Unfortunately, unlike coronavirus, with climate change there is no return to normal after the curve, it will only get worse.

If there is a silver lining to the current pandemic it could be the recognition of the nature of the new threats we face and the important steps we must take to collectively and individually to overcome them.  We must take the climate threat seriously as we’re all in this together and need to act as such. There is no other option — there is no Planet B.

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