Coronavirus: Climate change is different .. there is no hope of a vaccine

When people are dying on your doorstep, it brings the reality home. The sheer speed and global footprint of the Coronavirus crisis spread is alarming, for some maybe even terrifying.


With minds focussed on collective harm, experts ask if the attention may also switch to how society copes with the climate crisis too. If the current outbreak teaches us anything, it’s that nations co-operating together is the only way forward.

This model from Dr Elizabeth Swain a signpost as to why:

Take the view of David Comerford, program director, MSc Behavioural Science at University of Stirling, writing in The Conversation and republished by Science Alert, where he states:

One final lesson that the response to coronavirus teaches is that people can still work together to do the right thing. We need hope, and trust in each other, to tackle the climate crisis. Perhaps, counter-intuitively, coronavirus will help us with this.

And he’s not alone.

Sebastian Moss, deputy editor of Data Centre Dynamics, acknowledges the difficulty in having such a conversation when people are dying. But he argues:

At this point, let’s look beyond the current crisis, and look at the ongoing climate change emergency. Some will say it is too soon, and too insensitive to discuss anything but the coronavirus, but as the results of one crisis play out, we can gauge our preparations for others.

And he adds:

The majority of us will emerge unscathed, and some may feel the world has over-reacted to this virus. But climate change is different. It won’t go away, and there is no hope of a vaccine.

Andrew Norton, in an opinion piece for Climate Change News, says the balance between handling the current alert and not taking eyes off the climate crisis is a fine line for governments and others to tread. He says:

All countries need to do more in terms of their climate commitments to be ready for the Glasgow climate conference in November. A short-term focus on coronavirus is obviously necessary but must not distract from investment in climate action. Otherwise valuable time needed to build momentum for Cop26 could be lost.

John Schwartz writing in the New York Times reports on how big reductions in the use of transport, food consumption and less waste, being at home and shopping habits changing as a result of social distancing may have a profound impact on emissions.

There are concerns too. The Guardian reports on fears raised by Fatih Birol, IEA’s executive director, that the outbreak ‘could spell a slowdown in the world’s clean energy transition unless governments use green investments to help support economic growth through the global slowdown’.

It also cites a report from Bloomberg New Energy Finance which raises concerns over solar power projects and suggests sales of electric vehicles will fall too.

The alarm has also hit the way activism works, with the Fridays for Future campaign moving into an online phase after Greta Thunberg among others called for a pause in large protest gathering as an act of social responsibility. reports how UN Secretary General, António Guterres also warned against being distracted from the fight on climate change.

He said: “We will not fight climate change with a virus.”

Enrique Dans, meanwhile, posed a question in Forbes about what would change is world leaders prosecuted with the same degree of urgency over climate change as it is over the virus.

In terms of the magnitude of the crisis, the climate emergency is, by far, more severe and presents a greater existential threat than the coronavirus pandemic, even with the death toll. However, in order to fight the spread of the disease, we are prepared to bring our economies to a halt and place entire countries under a state of emergency. Has anybody considered what would happen if the world responded to the climate emergency in the same way it’s dealing with the coronavirus pandemic? Maybe the time has come to do so.


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