A Climate-Coronavirus Connection?

Thoughts on the connection by Alan Journet

While there seems to be little evidence of a direct link between climate trends and the COVID 19 pandemic, we can see some connections and messages. This is because, unlike other viruses transmitted by cold-blooded (ectothermic) organisms like insects or ticks, which undergo range expansion with global warming, coronavirus is transmitted directly from human to human, and we are already everywhere.

One indirect connection, however, is in the increased air pollution that both results from burning fossil fuels and then is exacerbated by global warming. The connection is that worsening air pollution makes individuals more susceptible to respiratory illnesses.  This makes global warming a classic ‘threat multiplier.’

Other messages that the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us are:

  1. Disease and Climate know no borders: Neither viruses nor climate change stop at arbitrary human jurisdictional boundaries.
  2. We are only as safe as the most vulnerable among us: Coronavirus reminds us that we are only as strong as the most vulnerable and most economically disadvantaged among us since we all are equally susceptible to spread and suffer from the infection, just as we are all equally susceptible to the negative impacts that climate change will impose upon our forests, fisheries, agriculture and natural ecosystems.
  3. Urgent global challenges require systemic changes:The way we both view our world and interact with it and one another must undergo substantial rethinking with complex global challenges.
  4. Prevention of a global challenge is always better:It’s always better to prevent a major global problem from happening than hope that a remedy will appear.
  5. Our responses to the challenge must be based on best available science:We must rely on the conclusions that science provides us rather than the gut feelings of uniformed politicians focusing on what best serves their personal and political interests.
  6. The rejection of science comes from the same sources:Many of the same individuals who reject or downplay the serious nature of the coronavirus, the urgency for action, and the conclusions of medical science are the same individuals who downplay or reject the conclusions from climate science. If these individuals cannot understand the urgency of addressing the coronavirus, given the exponential pattern of spread, it is difficult to imagine a catastrophe induced by climate change that could be severe enough to stimulate their concern – especially when the era of climate-induced megafires is already upon us.

It is noteworthy that the 2009 bailout of the auto-industry by the Obama Administration was accompanied by the imposition of stricter fuel economy standards. As we now consider bailing out airlines, it seems reasonable to require similar fuel reduction emissions strategies in exchange for any bail-out funds. This is critical since aviation fuels are generally now exempt from programs that address emissions reductions. If appropriately linked, this could be a turning point for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

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