Climate Change & COVID-19
Written by: Thuwuraka Mohonakumar
Edited by: Laiba Lakhani
In the dawn of COVID-19 we asked ourselves many disease-related questions, such as what are the causes of COVID-19 or how can COVID-19 spread? However, these questions lead us to an abyss of misinformation and myths that can be easily confused. . In contrast, this blog will be shedding light on a question that is not asked so often, which is the relationship between climate change and diseases overall, and what role this can have during the recent pandemic we are facing right now. One may ask, how are these two related? Well...we are in the middle of two crises right now, one being COVID-19 but another, playing its role in the background, being climate change. Even though both are important, the time is ticking and climate change will grow worse in the years to come if we do not take action now.
How might COVID-19 be caused by climate change?
According to many experts, climate change is simply causing an even larger spread of COVID-19 and other diseases and there have been many real-world events to prove this fact. If humans are not concerned about climate change, this will only result in easier contraction of diseases and ultimately turn one problem into two. For example, according to the Harvard School of Public Health, human activities that contribute to climate change such as deforestation, force “animals to migrate and potentially contact other animals or people and share germs” (Coronavirus and Climate Change, n.d., 7)1. More specifically, bats are predicted to be the most probable cause of COVID -19 because of the variety of them and the fact that they withhold “an average of 2.7 coronaviruses” and due to climate change, the population of bats has been drastically increasing, meaning that the susceptibility of the coronavirus being transmitted to humans is very high (Bressan, 2021, para. 2). To prove this, researchers have observed that “temperature rises, cloud cover, and atmospheric CO2” have altered regions to suit those that are favored by “many bat species” (Bressan, 2021, para. 3). Not only has climate change made regions more suitable for bats, but as explained before, has forced animals to relocate while they also carry the transmitted virus (Bressan, 2021,para . 6)2
The effects of COVID on climate change:
As it may be predicted and observed, due to the large implementation of lockdowns, the pollution emissions from transportation and industrial processes have gradually decreased (Cho, 2020, para. 1). However, there are still several setbacks produced due to COVID-19, such as halting climate initiatives and more. For example, the COP26 was delayed, there was an increase in deforestation activities in the Amazon due to the “illegal loggers and miners,”. To add, countries have less money to afford the expenses of mitigating climate change through the enforcement of climate laws (e.g. for “climate resilience and renewable energy”), and most devastating is the increase in plastic use due to the mandatory mask mandates and the high frequency of food being ordered online (Cho, 2020, para. 3, 5-9). Despite the numerous consequences, there are still several benefits that occurred. For instance, in this extra time for decision-making, the pandemic has given us, countries like Germany, France, South Korea, and the U.S. that have planned to make electricity-powered vehicles more available, including renewable energy (Cho, 2020, para. 14-17). Finally, something we can all agree with is the increase in biking and walking when compared to vehicle use or international travel, which drastically reduces the CO2 emissions and not to mention all other GHG emissions as well (Cho, 2020, para. 19-20). We can adapt to these changes such as bike riding and walking to further improve our progress on mitigating climate change3.
Possible solutions in the long run to prevent diseases like COVID-19 from happening:
To prevent the spread of infectious diseases humans can be less reliant on animal meat and more sustainable meat such as those that are plant-based (to reduce the possibility of contamination or disease spread from the meat), and also reduce greenhouse gas emissions by being less dependent on CO2-emitting vehicles, saving energy, using non-plastic materials including plastic masks or gloves and most of all raising awareness about the still present issue in the environment today - CLIMATE CHANGE!
(Coronavirus and Climate Change, n.d., para. 7)
It is important to understand that although CO2 emissions may have decreased significantly and we may assume that climate change may affect us even later now due to the pandemic, the CO2 that was emitted pre-COVID is still abundant in the atmosphere, further contributing to the greenhouse effect which in turn, induces global warming. Therefore, if we give our maximum effort to mitigate climate change (the root cause of such issues), there will be a less dramatic impact of diseases and will even prevent disease spread from occurring.
Coronavirus and climate change. (2020, May 19). [Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health]. C-CHANGE | Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/c-change/subtopics/coronavirus-and-climate-change/.
Cho, R. (2020, June 25). Covid-19’s long-term effects on climate change—For better or worse. State of the Planet. https://blogs.ei.columbia.edu/2020/06/25/covid-19-impacts-climate-change/.
Bressan, D. (2021, February 8). Climate change could have played a role in the covid-19 outbreak. Forbes. Retrieved April 7, 2021, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/davidbressan/2021/02/08/climate-change-could-have-played-a-role-in-the-covid-19-outbreak/.