When I first read about the World War, the Bubonic Plague, or the Great Depression, I took solace in the fact that these were the issues of a bygone era. I thought my only knowledge of such catastrophes would come from my history books or the occasional documentaries my teachers screened in class. I never thought I would be witnessing such events simultaneously, before turning old enough to even vote.
Before the Coronavirus pandemic, I thought the climate crisis was going to be the event of my lifetime. Although I still think climate change is still the most pressing issue in the 21st century, the current state of the world, battling a health and economic crisis, makes it seem like we are heading towards an apocalypse. I feel as though I am in a dystopian novel, like the ones we read in our literature class every year.
What’s scary to me is that the coronavirus pandemic is not just a health crisis, it is a plethora of crises, changing everything, from the economy to education to politics to our social lives.
For weeks now, I have been locked up in my house, unable to return to a school I terribly miss. While scrolling through Instagram on one of these days, I saw at least half a dozen posts about how while humans suffer, our planet is healing.
That’s when I realized, this virus is slowing down climate change. I care about climate change. A little too much, my parents would say.
And now, finally, something is slowing it down.
Over the past few weeks, human emissions have dropped drastically. China saw a 25% drop in its emissions within a two-week period. There is clean air, even in the most polluted cities in the world. Apparently, one can now see wildlife, once a rare sighting, in the canals of Venice.
However, these emission drops are temporary, experts say. They will rise just as fast as they fell when the world economy starts its recovery process.
The virus, even with all its pain and suffering, is temporary — the world will recover from it. The climate crisis, on the contrary, is not going away anytime soon.
Climate change will kill millions. It is coming, and we have already felt it. In 2020 itself, apart from a pandemic, the world saw a glimpse of its future in the Australian wildfires. Across the globe, people are dying because of rapid changes in weather patterns.
However, this virus, I believe, has somewhat readied the world to face a crisis that is inevitably going to destroy life as we know it.
For instance, the past couple of weeks have taught even the most technologically challenged people, the skill of using technology. They have become open to using it, partly because they have to. Many of my teachers who detest the use of technology, now have no other means to teach.
Online conferencing is a small but important step towards lowering air travel, and therefore, our collective carbon emissions. At school, teachers can lower their carbon footprint by limiting their travel for workshops and recruiting, and having virtual meetings instead.
This pandemic has called into question our world leaders and governments. Some of them have come through, some of them have not. Most of them are trying their best. There is new expertise in how to deal with a crisis as big as this one in a world of globalization and capitalism. Governments can use this newfound knowledge to tackle climate change. For example, when the world’s fossil fuel-driven economy eventually bounces back, governments will need to invest their time and money in developing clean technology. A report by the International Energy Agency (IEA) emphasizes that this can be an opportunity for governments to rebuild their economies with clean energy.
The complete economic shutdown in countries across the world has strained global food supply chains. Goods that were once easily available are now rationed. The global food and agriculture industry has a terrible impact on our environment, and locally produced food helps cut down on emissions. Now is the time to start consuming locally produced food, which will not only reduce our environmental impact but also give local businesses a chance to thrive.
The past few months have taught the world how to work together in fighting a common enemy. Climate change negotiations until now have just been a series of blame games that have led us nowhere. This crisis, hence, needs to lead to policy and behavioral changes in the future. If it does not, a pandemic will not be the worst thing humanity witnesses this century.
Sadder than a tragedy is not utilizing the lessons from that event to lead change. We need to use the momentum that this has given us as an opportunity to avert an even larger tragedy. And I really hope we do.
Janvi Poddar is the editor-in-chief of The Woodstocker
Edited by Archita Aggarwal