COVID-19 may deliver some short-term climate benefits by curbing energy use or even longer-term benefits if the economic stimulus is linked to climate goals – or if people get used to telecommuting and thus use less oil in the future, said Jason Bordoff, a former U.S. National Security Council senior director and special assistant to former President Barack Obama, in an op-ed published in Foreign Policy.
This year we saw the satellite images of NASA, which show a dramatic decline in pollution levels over China after the coronavirus outbreak. NASA’s map compared the first two months of 2019 with the same period of 2020.
Despite the potential short-term decrease in emissions, an increase in clean air and a healing environment, there is a risk that this pandemic, which is likely to dominate debates for months or even years to come, will make us forget environmental concerns for a long time. The United Nations Climate talks (COP26) have already been delayed until 2021 and new policy initiatives have been postponed. The convention center that was set to host the U.N. climate talks in Glasgow in November has been converted into a hospital for coronavirus patients. Governments and world leaders are focused on only one crisis right now. So, delaying the talks would mean governments eased off on pursuing stronger commitments to fulfill the Paris goals.
This is the wrong lesson to take from the drop in emissions. That a global pandemic with thousands of deaths, rapidly increasing unemployment and huge amounts of economic dislocation is required to reduce emissions by a relatively small amount should instead be one more wakeup call to the scale of the climate challenge and the complexity of solving it.
The world is experiencing a big and natural experiment that cannot be carried out on this scale again.
Like COVID-19, climate change is the ultimate collective action problem.
Extreme measures to fight the coronavirus have raised the hopes for similarly drastic action for global warming. But there is no need for a deadly pandemic for fighting climate change.
Is it possible air pollution, which has been occurring since the Industrial Revolution, will disappear if people stay home? Of course not. However, there are humble things we can do to help battle climate change, big and small. Do not underestimate yourself.
Invest money in the climate: I do not mean go out and buy Tesla solar panels.
“Putting your money where your priorities are, in a market-based system, is a very important thing,” Cleetus said. Choose green investments, if that’s your thing, or just reassess where you keep your savings.
“The morals and ethics of banks can vary widely,” said Madeleine Morris, a research associate at the Grantham Institute for Climate Change and the Environment, "so where you have your savings and current accounts can make a difference.”
Go vegan. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. It is better to keep up a middle-ground commitment like a one-day plant-based diet than go vegan for a week, give up and go back to 24/7 cheese. Eating vegan foods rather than animal-based ones is the best way to reduce your carbon footprint. A University of Chicago study showed that you can reduce your carbon footprint more effectively by going vegan than by switching from a conventional car to a hybrid. Therefore, less carbon tax on meat will help combat climate change.
Leave the car at home. Do you still drive to work? It’s not too late to start taking the subway or walking to work. If it’s too far to cycle, check the bus schedule. If driving is unavoidable, check the emissions of your car. Could you upgrade to an electric or hybrid alternative?
Make your house more energy-efficient. If your windows are old and drafty, it may be time to replace them with energy-efficient models or to boost their efficiency with weatherstripping and storm windows. It is almost never cost-effective to replace windows just to save energy. If you buy a new refrigerator, don’t leave the old one plugged in. Make sure your walls and attic are well insulated.
Effective insulation slows the rate heat flows out of the house in winter or into the house in summer; so less energy is required to heat or cool the house.
The coronavirus has given us a “historic opportunity” to pour investment into energy transition technologies that cut greenhouse gas emissions.
For example, last week in the U.K., thousands of British homes were paid to use electricity during the day for the first time, as wind and solar projects produced a surge in clean energy during the coronavirus lockdown. This case shows us that the cost of renewables is now below that of fossil fuels. Therefore, there is no point in trying to sustain the unbearably high cost of fossil assets.
We need nature for a sustainable life. Don’t forget, in order to produce one pound of honey, a bee has to visit 2 million flowers. A hive of bees must fly 55,000 miles to produce a pound of honey. However, rising atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are reducing the protein concentration of a floral pollen source essential for the bees. So, the amount of air pollution directly influences what is available for us to consume. It is a simple balance of nature.
*Journalist, Ph.D. candidate and energy expert based in London