The declaration by the World Health Organization that saw the coronavirus or the COVID-19 as pandemic caught on a string of reactions by several countries throughout the world. From international travel bans to domestic social distancing – all methods to curb the spread of the virus are being practiced by everyone around the globe. The panic and distress caused by this news and the adoption of preventive policies can be observed irrespective of the number of reported cases in that particular country. Many gatherings and events have been called off including sports matches, cultural festivals, international business conferences and the world is set to go in a temporary lockdown. This was the response received by the COVID-19 within its existence of two months where the current number of reported cases are 118,000 in 114 countries and 4291 people have lost their lives.
This makes one wonder why things went south with climate change? The very first climate emergency declaration took place in December 2016, approximately three years prior to the COVID-19. Climate change that has impacted our food, air, health system, water and environment has an estimated death rate more significant than the virus. It is found to be responsible for an additional 2,50,000 deaths per year through heat stress and a predicted net increase of 5,29,000 adult deaths by 2050 due to reduced food productions. Yet these calculations do not include every aspect of the impact that the climate crisis imposes.
Individuals and environmental agencies across the world are still spending a considerable amount of their funds in convincing people the reality behind climate change despite scientists constantly warning us of its existence. The reaction to coronavirus went on to further prove one thing, i.e., it is not about believing or not believing but about what effects the individuals and the government more directly.
This graph shows the number of cases cause by the coronavirus as of 16thMarch 2020 and the this graph shows the calamities and the impacts of global warming. One of the reasons behind the silence to climate change can be understood by analyzing these graphs.
It can be noted that on one hand, the people affected by the virus are irrespective of their wealth or class, in fact the larger proportion of the reported cases may be belonging to the upper class people due to easy access to medical facilities. On the other hand, however, the second graph clearly mentions how through global warming currently (until 2025), only ‘some’ people and regions would be adversely affected and we can even anticipate some positive impacts on the markets in the short period. The ‘some’ here are the people and regions stricken with poverty, those who cannot buy the rights and resources through money and power.
This concept is further supported by critiques who deny the Anthropocene. Anthropocene, a geological epoch that commences the significant impact on earth’s climate due to human activities is often critiqued for its nature of ‘all humans’. Many researchers and people in academia present the argument that human activities that impact the earth’s climate are not related to activities performed by ‘all’ humans rather specific to only what the capitalists benefit from, for example- mining, fossil fuel exploitation and deforestation on a large scale. Many indigenous groups have proved that it is possible to coexist with the nature in a balanced manner and that consuming to sustain does not harm the environment.
This also makes it easier to understand why the environment has shown a considerable improvement in terms of air quality index or clearer water bodies. NASA air quality researcher Fei Liu said – “This is the first time I have seen such a dramatic drop-off over such a wide area for a specific event.” It is important to understand that it is not the entire human population being under lockdown that has resulted in this but the result of capitalism coming to a halt.
Some might wonder whether it really is necessary to talk about climate change in the middle of a pandemic, where they do not realise that climate change is a bigger crisis than the current COVID-19 threat. The world’s response to this threat indicates that it is possible for us to amend our ways in order to survive the climate change but only when there are government efforts to support behavioural change. By the end of the day some experts have reports that reduction in pollution may have even saved more lives than the death toll caused by the deadly virus in China.
Vanshika Mittal is a second year undergraduate from Ashoka University pursuing her major in Economics and minor in Environmental Sciences.