On Friday, as the world was marking World Environment Day we continued to ask the question, “Is air pollution making the coronavirus pandemic even more deadly?” as dirty air known to worsen the heart and lung risk factors for COVID-19 infections.
Outdoor air pollution kills around 4.2 million people worldwide each year, so people are right to be worried about the relationship between air pollution and the pandemic.
According to Aaron Bernstein, the director of the Center for Climate, Health and Global Environment at Harvard University, for every small increment in air pollution, there's a substantial increase in death. Therefore, we could pick any city in the world and expect to see the effect of air pollution on people’s risk of getting severely sick from the coronavirus.
Well, the nitty-gritty question is that if we call for putting the planet’s interest above us individuals, will the pandemic be even more deadly?
Honestly, this pandemic has shown us why every individual should become selfless to help preserve and conserve the environment. We also understand that protecting the environment is not only the responsibility of celebrities like Al Gore or Hollywood star Leonardo DiCaprio. Millionaires such as Gore and DiCaprio have become some of the most recognizable faces in the fight against climate change for producing high-profile documentaries on the subject and jetting around the world to spread their gospel. Also, philanthropist Elon Musk, Tesla's CEO, has been celebrated by environmentalists for building electric cars and batteries to store solar power.
As bankers and celebrities are often on the frontlines of the climate change discussion, it was always seen as a posh issue and this harmed rather than helped the cause.
Climate destruction was the inevitable consequence of this neoliberal economic model – a model that insisted on deregulation, privatization and allowing corporations to operate free from government intervention and put profit before people and the planet, like those celebrities and big technology companies.
On the other hand, the relationship between science and policy relating to the coronavirus pandemic has lessons for dealing with climate change. What can COVID-19 teach us about responding to climate change?
With the help of COVID-19, many parallels have been drawn between the health crisis and the climate crisis. A new virus pandemic, while inevitable at some point, had uncertain timing. Uncertainty can lead to panic and the idea that preparing for it involves wasted resources and unproductive investments.
There are other parallels with climate change. Low-income countries and low-income population groups have been some of the hardest hit. They are also both a global phenomenon, highlighting our interdependencies and the need to work together to solve problems.
Meanwhile, the importance of renewables highly gains importance as the COVID-19 pandemic intensifies the urgency to expand sustainable energy solutions worldwide. According to a report published by the International Energy Agency (IEA), the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), the United Nations Statistics Division (UNSD), the World Bank and the World Health Organization (WHO), significant progress had been made on various aspects of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) prior to the start of the COVID-19 crisis. These include a notable reduction in the number of people worldwide lacking access to electricity, a strong uptake in renewable energy for electricity generation and improvements in energy efficiency. Despite these advances, global efforts remain insufficient to reach the key targets of the 17 SDGs by 2030.
We have learned many lessons from the pandemic. The next 10 years will determine whether we stand any chance of preventing the worst impacts of climate change and the orders of magnitude worse than the COVID-19 disruption. We will not be able to avoid pandemics unless the environment is saved. If we protect the environment well, it will be ready to feed us; if we can’t, it is also ready to poison us. We should not allow the environment to kill us with our own hands.
*Journalist, Ph.D. candidate and energy expert based in London