The Intersection of COVID-19 and Climate Change

By Anna H. ’23 and Izzy F. ’23

Though the focus on our climate emergency may have taken a temporary backseat in the face of the current global pandemic, climate change continues to affect the state of our environment. While COVID-19 and climate change are easily identified as separate, research shows that the climate crisis is more closely related to COVID-19 than one might expect.

Climate change is an increasingly pressing issue. The United States Environmental Protection Agency shows that carbon emissions have skyrocketed as technology continues to advance. To control the release of greenhouse gases, several governments have implemented carbon emission restrictions. Despite the worldwide efforts to help the environment, there has been an alarming lack of response to climate change, particularly in the United States, where acts such as the Green New Deal are struggling to gain bipartisan support. Taking matters into our own hands, Winsor’s environmental club Conserve Our World held a school wide assembly in celebration of Earth Week. This assembly covered the history of Earth day and what we can do as students to minimize our contributions to global warming. 

A newer unforeseen impact of climate change was introduced this year due to the occurrence of COVID-19. Although many governments are prioritizing their efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19, this temporary quarantine has had many environmental effects, both positive and negative. The effects of COVID-19 on government policies, mass industries and human activity have had many astounding impacts on the climate, some of which are reflected in a reduction of carbon emission, air pollution, and energy demand. Since the start of the global pandemic, numerous countries have made the decision to close their borders, resulting in a 95% drop in air travel worldwide, with over 16,000 passenger jets grounded. 

As people become more inclined to use technology for work, conferences, and meetings, working at home has become a widely used lifestyle and may continue into the future. The stay-at-home policy has produced a noticeable decline in car emissions in cities all over the world. Unable to safely continue with their regular operations, thousands of businesses and factories have been forced to temporarily shut down to help combat the virus. The International Energy Agency estimates that eight percent of this year’s estimated total CO2 emissions will never be released, which equates to about 2.6 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide.  It is estimated that the global energy demand will drop six percent this year, an amount equivalent to losing the entire energy demand of India in one year. This decrease in worldwide carbon emissions is already becoming apparent in places with significant amounts of air pollution. Los Angeles experienced its longest stretch of clean air on record, and within just a few weeks, many cities in India reported that the air pollution had cleared enough to be able to see the Himalayas. 

These positive impacts have created a misconception that COVID has permanently halted climate change; however, experts predict that as life begins to resume to normal, and factories begin producing again, the comeback from the virus may erase these positive changes even faster than they happened. The first effect has already been seen in China, where smog has reappeared in the cities where factories have resumed manufacturing goods. Unless there are large-scale changes in government policies, the impact of COVID-19 will not make a large enough dent in climate change to solve or even slow down the pace of global warming. Every year, the level of CO2 in the atmosphere rises and even with the decline in the emissions of 2020, there will still be an increase from last year. 

The large-scale response to COVID-19 as a global crisis has many correlations as to how earth’s climate crisis should be handled, both individually and in large scale. People’s choices to abide by the government’s stay at home order demonstrates the environmental impact when large masses of people adapt their lifestyle to work together for a greater cause. The same mindset can be applied to an individual’s conscious choices to live sustainably by optimizing the number of trips taken by car and minimizing their carbon footprint in other aspects of their life. Though individual change may seem insignificant in the face of a pandemic or climate change, a collective movement in changing lifestyle patterns, whether for the sake of public health or for the environment, can make a difference in both crises. As the government and numerous companies implement policies in an effort to help “flatten the curve,” it becomes apparent that they have the ability to temporarily shut down or alter their systems to promote changes with a large impact. In their response to COVID-19, many corporations have demonstrated their willingness to put the economy aside to prioritize the safety and lives of people.

The efforts and changes required to reverse climate change will have to be even larger than those taken to combat COVID. Though climate change presents itself as a seemingly hopeless situation, COVID-19 has had an astounding impact on the public outlook towards the ability to take drastic action for a greater good. Massive changes in government policies and ways of living are required to combat climate change; however, with COVID-19, many people are starting to realize that these changes are very much possible. COVID-19 has demonstrated the impact of individual sacrifices for the collective benefit of our future, whether it is the health of the world or the climate. 

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