The pandemic isn't fixing climate change

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CNN's Bill Weir looks at the parallels between coronavirus and the climate crisis. Watch the latest videos on Covid-19. 

Posted: Mar 27, 2020 12:21 PM
Updated: Mar 27, 2020 12:21 PM

The internet has deemed 2020 canceled. And now everyone's looking for a silver lining.

But you know what's not a silver lining of this pandemic? Fixing the climate crisis. We haven't fixed it, aren't fixing it, and the way we're talking about all of this is gross.

You've probably seen these headlines — that air pollution and heat-trapping emissions appear to be down as the world economy sits idle. Millions of people are trapped at home while Covid-19, the novel coronavirus, sweeps the globe. We're not consuming in the way that we normally would. We're not flying, driving, gathering, meeting — basically, we're not "doing" at all.

And yes, all of these inactions curb pollution — a bit.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves.

The public conversation, online and off, has been too quick to celebrate the unintended consequences of a pandemic that, remember, is killing thousands of people.

One Twitter user wrote: "-Venice Canal has become clear

"-Italy Coasts have dolphins coming nearer

"-Japan has deers (sic) roaming the streets

"-Thailand has monkeys doing the same

"-China has record-breaking pollution cuts,

"The Earth is healing."

Um, no.

"It is amazing how a very complex system that is ruling our climate -- how quickly that can change, how rapidly," Alexander Verbeek, a Dutch environmentalist, said in an interview with TRT World. "For instance, in New York City, there was a study that because of less cars, the carbon monoxide -- not the carbon dioxide -- is down 50%, and carbon dioxide is down something like 5% to 10% just because of the reductions of cars in New York ... We saw in China a reduction of 25% in the CO2 emissions. So, it proves that it can be done."

Verbeek is someone I respect. He and others are careful to say they're not celebrating the loss of life, or that we've solved the climate crisis because pollution is down.

But a brief pause on our normal emission levels related to Covid-19 does not prove we are going to reduce emissions in the longer term, as we must.

And real solutions to the climate crisis don't look like this.

Others are troubled by these associations, too.

"[I]t doesn't feel right to celebrate [a reduction in CO2 emissions] when it comes at the high cost of the lives of people -- elders, sick and disabled people, and an increase in racist attacks against the Asian community worldwide," Kathy Jetñil-Kijiner, wrote on Facebook recently. She is a poet, artist and activist from the Marshall Islands, a country in the Pacific that could disappear beneath rising seas because of climate change. "Real, meaningful climate action is all about being inclusive, and it doesn't leave our most vulnerable community members behind."

My beef with the corona-climate chatter goes beyond decorum.

There are a couple of odd associations at play here.

Policy wonks have spent years debunking the myth that economic growth and fossil fuel pollution march in lockstep. They don't. There have been periods of time when emissions declined while economies continued to grow. How exactly to curb global warming pollution is the source of healthy debate, but it's clear society can be prosperous -- and healthy -- and also avoid existential collapse in the form of climate apocalypse. It's not either-or.

The truth is that fixing global warming will not be easy, but it will not look like this. It will look like cleaner technologies, different sources of power -- wind, not coal -- cleaner, denser, more-walkable cities. It will look like plant-based diets, more trees, electric planes, and so on. It looks like carbon taxes and regulating (and prosecuting) of still-powerful fossil fuel interests.

It looks like action, not inaction; taking to the streets, not staying home.

I've also seen smart writers draw parallels between the urgency with which many individuals (thankfully) are responding to the Covid-19 pandemic and the urgency that's needed to respond to the climate crisis.

Yes, we need urgent action on climate. But motivation matters. I see no reason to believe that the pollution-reductions associated with the pandemic will last beyond the duration of this public-health crisis. We need the public to see and be motivated by the very real and very clear dangers of the climate crisis -- and for that motivation to continue in the long-haul, well beyond coronavirus, well beyond the decade, in fact.

If anything, the Covid-climate talk may fool some people into thinking we've already "fixed" global warming -- that a slight leveling-off of some pollutants means we bought more time.

We haven't. We're already on borrowed time. The climate crisis is an emergency, too, and has been for decades. A NASA scientist, James Hansen, testified about global warming in the US Senate in 1988, saying the era of global warming had begun. Alarm bells have continued to ring throughout the years from scientists, from the UN, and from many world leaders. We now have only a matter of years not just to slow fossil fuel pollution but to eliminate it.

If there's one tiny silver lining that I take from the way individuals are responding to the coronavirus pandemic, it's that social norms can and do change on a dime.

Elbow bumps, video chats, social-distanced picnics, hanging out the window and banging pots at 8 p.m. in support of medical workers and others on the front lines -- all of these have become not just normal but expected behaviors in many peer groups, seemingly overnight.

We can and should make the same shift in attitudes toward fossil fuels -- stigmatizing flying, driving gas-guzzlers, eating beef, and so on.

And, more importantly, because climate change is a system problem, not just an individual one, we can change our attitudes toward politicians who enable the status quo.

We can -- and must -- choose to fix global warming.

But it won't happen on the coattails of a deadly pandemic.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 91935

Reported Deaths: 2780
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds6903153
DeSoto532153
Harrison368771
Jackson334367
Madison318086
Rankin313473
Lee254066
Jones236078
Forrest231069
Washington215671
Lafayette203039
Lauderdale1984123
Bolivar177465
Oktibbeha173749
Lamar156633
Neshoba1524103
Panola140926
Sunflower138543
Lowndes138457
Warren136650
Leflore134380
Pontotoc120416
Pike120148
Monroe117665
Scott115925
Copiah115433
Coahoma110927
Holmes108458
Marshall106714
Grenada104535
Lincoln104453
Yazoo103429
Simpson100142
Union96524
Tate94537
Leake93535
Adams89135
Wayne87121
Pearl River84850
Marion83633
Covington79321
Prentiss78617
Alcorn75310
Newton74722
Itawamba74121
George73913
Tallahatchie73418
Winston71919
Tishomingo65035
Attala63625
Chickasaw63524
Tippah63516
Walthall58925
Clay56216
Hancock55420
Noxubee54015
Jasper53615
Clarke52538
Smith51714
Calhoun50612
Tunica47213
Montgomery45020
Claiborne44916
Lawrence42212
Yalobusha41314
Perry39016
Humphreys36915
Quitman3625
Stone34611
Greene33516
Webster32813
Jefferson Davis32211
Carroll30812
Amite30710
Wilkinson30117
Kemper28515
Sharkey25812
Jefferson2359
Benton2151
Franklin1863
Choctaw1775
Issaquena1033
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 128818

Reported Deaths: 2284
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson18648332
Mobile12949288
Montgomery8560170
Madison736573
Tuscaloosa7015112
Lee558259
Shelby550149
Baldwin502148
Marshall376342
Etowah326344
Calhoun321139
Morgan312925
Houston260621
Elmore247547
DeKalb230119
St. Clair218134
Walker217780
Talladega199925
Limestone191919
Cullman180017
Franklin172728
Dallas172526
Russell16912
Autauga162424
Lauderdale159231
Colbert157224
Escambia154324
Blount150413
Jackson146610
Chilton143325
Dale128042
Covington127027
Coffee12388
Pike11329
Tallapoosa112483
Chambers110642
Clarke104417
Marion91428
Butler90238
Barbour8097
Marengo69319
Winston68512
Lowndes64327
Pickens62214
Bibb6179
Hale60828
Bullock58514
Randolph58512
Lawrence57620
Monroe5708
Washington54513
Geneva5404
Perry5356
Wilcox52911
Cherokee52816
Clay5187
Conecuh51611
Crenshaw51531
Macon46619
Henry4524
Sumter41719
Fayette4128
Choctaw34212
Lamar3302
Cleburne3116
Greene29915
Coosa1573
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