The Connection between Renewable Energy, Climate Change and COVID-19
Before the COVID-19 pandemic we are now faced with, the state of the earth was shaky, at best. Natural disasters, such as the floods, wildfires and deadly heatwaves have been increasing in frequency worldwide and global pollution rates have skyrocketed. Climate change protests were happening almost every day in every country, with mass gatherings and actions being put into place to try and force governments, companies and the general population to turn towards sustainable energy before it is too late.
Enter the coronavirus….
It is important to understand the various ways in which the coronavirus is affecting climate change, as well as the effect that climate change has on the coronavirus, but most importantly, how we can apply renewable energy to battle these crises.
Is the Coronavirus Affecting Climate Change?
The unfortunate fact is this: The current pandemic is having, and is bound to leave, a very large dent in the climate change movement for various reasons:
1. The Climate Movement has Lost its Momentum
All the momentum that has been built through mass protests and groups trying to affect climate change, has now stalled. Due to the fact that most cities and countries are following restriction guidelines to try and minimiSe the infection rates, mass gatherings cannot take place. This means that all of the ‘in your face’ actions that have been helping people become conscious of the impending climate disasters, as well as ways for people to get together to enforce these solutions, have been halted. The media has been reporting little other than coronavirus related news. This is all extrapolated by the fact that the United Nations has had to cancel many climate change related meetings.
2. Impact of COVID-19 on the Environment: Will the Change be Fleeting
Even though seemingly wonderful things such as less air pollution (leading to clean skies) and less movement (meaning clean waterways in Venice) seem to be good for climate change, it is in actual fact not. At most it will soon go back to the way it was before, if not worsen. Even though the water in Venice seems clean, the quality has in fact not improved. It is merely an illusion of betterment due to the sediment sinking to the bottom.
The same can be said for the air pollutants. China has already announced that they are planning on reopening many of their factories and other sectors as the disease seems to be better under their control.
3. Economic Growth vs Climate Change Action
With one of the worst global recessions in history looming on the horizon, crashing economies worldwide have caused unmatched panic. There are already countries that have asked for leniency regarding their obligations in terms of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, which obligations entail changes that they would have had to have implemented only by 2050. The approach seems to be that in order to save their economies any climate change obligations would have to be pushed to the back of the line.
David Sanderlow, an expert on China’s energy and climate policy, has said that “Economic growth will be an even higher priority in the months and years ahead as a government works to stabilise the economy in the face of the coronavirus”
Whilst climate change movement promote renewable energy on environmental grounds, a leading financial economist, Dr Charles Donovan, Executive Director of the Centre for Climate finance and Investment at London’s Imperial College Business School, stressed that renewable energy sources such as wind, solar and tidal power should be more attractive to investors and policymakers than fossil fuels on a purely economic basis. It is argued that the coronavirus pandemic has in fact made the case for transition to renewable energy without even taking the environmental grounds into account.
4. Has the Pandemic Response Contributed to the Climate Crisis?
A probable factor people are overlooking is the increased use of non-biodegradable products. Not just do the test swabs for COVID-19 contain plastic, but so do the masks and gloves for protection. The use of non-recyclable items, such as the plastic packaging that all of the disinfectant products come in, is skyrocketing. The pandemic has resulted in an increase in amounts of medical and hazardous waste generated. Only long-terms systemic shifts will have an impact on the climate crisis – there has to be a change in our production and consumption habits which should all be aimed at a cleaner and greener way of life.
5. Depleting Water Resources
Fresh water, one of our most precious and limited resources is also being affected. The copious amounts of water being used for cleaning and disinfecting, is putting even more strain on an already overwhelmed resource in many countries.
The Coronavirus is Part of the Climate Crisis
Harvard scientist, Dr. Aaron Bernstein, has said that even though we cannot directly link global warming to the coronavirus itself, nor to the spread of COVID-19, it has to be noted that the climate changes are affecting the way in which we relate to other species on earth. This is putting our health at risk for infections. Many animals are migrating to escape the heating poles and coming into contact with animals they wouldn’t have under normal circumstances. This is creating a growing opportunity for pathogens to spread to new hosts, including us.
Dr Berstein further stated that “Many of the root causes of climate change also increase the risk of pandemics.” Loss of habitat due to deforestation (agriculture being the biggest culprit), unbearable heat and cold, and changing weather patterns including droughts are forcing animals to migrate and potentially infect livestock, or other animals that humans come into contact with frequently. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/c-change/news/coronavirus-climate-change-and-the-environment/
Air pollution is another big factor at play. It has been proven that the quality of air is strongly related to respiratory diseases such as asthma, bronchitis and pneumonia. Studies on SARS, a virus that is closely related to COVID-19, have proven that people who breathe dirtier air are twice as likely die from infections such as COVID-19.
What We Should Learn from COVID-19, Renewable Energy and Our Fight Against Climate Change
At a time like this, it is almost a crime not to pay attention to what is currently happening around the globe, with COVID-19 being just one more symptom of an even bigger disease. At the moment we are trying to avoid thousands, if not millions of deaths related to the coronavirus, however, if we do not continue to take action against climate change, those numbers will inevitably climb into the billions.
The questions surrounding why there is such drastic action being taken against one crisis but not the other when both present us with the probability of disaster and call for a change in our lifestyles. This can possibly be explained through human psychology. With regards to the coronavirus pandemic the whole world is now in emergency mode. The impacts of climate change are more gradual than that of the pandemic and as such most people don’t have the fear that their loved ones could die from the climate crisis in the near future. The uphill battle is to keep the world in emergency mode when it comes to climate change. As Margaret Klein Salamon, a former psychologist who now heads the advocacy group The Climate Mobilisation, pointed out, if we really accepted that we are in a climate emergency, the news would lead with daily updates about which countries were reducing their emissions the fastest, and people would be vehemently protesting to ensure their leaders were adopting policies that worked.
Alon Tal, a veteran Israeli environmental campaigner and the founder of several environmental organizations, explained that “The ability to personalise the damage of behaving irresponsibly is very important. It’s something we don’t do enough in the climate change discourse. When we talk about taking action for the good of ‘future generations’ it doesn’t seem to have much traction.” https://www.timesofisrael.com/coronavirus-kicks-global-warming-off-the-public-agenda/)
It is not that human beings don’t want to be better necessarily, it is just very hard for humans to imagine and empathise with something that seems to be very distant in the future. The decade long attempts at fear mongering have done nothing more than paralyse people. Tal compares it to the Titanic. If there is an iceberg that we will hit regardless, why not have a party and fun while we go down, since it is inevitable anyway. Truly the biggest issue faced here is that fighting any crisis, whether it is the current global coronavirus pandemic or the climate change disaster, people will have to disrupt their lives.
When people are literally faced with sickness and death by the thousands, as is the current case with COVID-19, humans can more easily (albeit with a lot of fight) accept drastic measures being put into place. It is far more difficult to imagine the millions of intangible deaths from climate inaction that lie in the future (or currently on smaller scale in ‘removed’ countries). For effective change in individual behaviour, there would need to be a better approach. Perhaps if humankind could feel positive and experience joy and purpose in making healthy, sustainable and renewable changes, the climate movement might fare better.
Nature is speaking and have been warning us for quite some time. Why aren’t we listening?
Delay and Inaction toward Renewable Energy will be Deadly
In the end it is clear: Something good has come out of this pandemic, but only if we act fast. Since the earth has been given some time to breathe, we can see, far and wide, just how quickly the earth can regenerate, recover and revitalise when drastic measures are employed. It is important to heed the scientist’s reminder that the pollution decline from this virus outbreak is just temporary. That this unintended glimpse into what impact we could have if we slowed destruction of the ever-evolving climate crisis, is a lesson that shouldn’t be ignored. It should give us hope that we are able to tackle the climate crisis, but only if we step up to the plate and change the way we live.
We need to start applying green measures wherever possible, and this does not stop with using fewer plastic bags or straws. Those measures will help in the long run, but it will most certainly only scrape the tip of the iceberg. With our biggest problems lying in fossil fuel usage to run most of the world economy, unless we switch to methods of renewable energy such as Solar Power, Hydro-Power and Wind Power, there will be no sustainable future for the human race.
Societies have rebuilt before after catastrophic disasters, yet they chose to rebuild with non-renewable energy sources. What better time is there for us to learn from our past mistakes and rebuild with sustainable energy.
As Albert Einstein once said:
"Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results"
Perhaps it is now time that we start heeding the advice of scientists.