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How the Coronavirus Will Impact Our Fight Against Climate Change?

While fighting COVID-19 is likely the challenge of this year and perhaps the next, the fight against climate change remains the struggle of our lifetime. They say every cloud has a silver lining, is this pandemic giving us an opportunity to build a more ecologically sustainable future? In short: Many of the disruptions which are occurring as a result of the coronavirus could have a positive effect on reducing our global emissions and initiating more sustainable habits and life changes. Here are the 5 examples we will look at:
  • Reduction in traffic emissions
  • Curbing our meat habits
  • Increased trust in Science
  • A Democratic victory in the US election
  • The growing need for a Green New Deal

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Mass reductions in traffic emissions
With stay-at-home order being the new norm, cities all over the world from Los Angeles to Nairobi have reported drastically better air quality as emissions from heavy traffic are reduced. As people become more accustomed to working from home, there is a possibility traffic from commuting will be reduced permanently even after the virus is beaten. NASA images (below) have shown clear evidence of emission reductions during shutdowns in China. While some of these reductions are due to mass industry being shutdown, it does highlight how polluted our air has become.
Curbing our meat habits
COVID-19 has put huge strain on our food supply chain and few industries have been harder hit than our meat industry who are dependent on heavily staffed processing plants. In Canada, three major beef plants have been forced to shut down due to COVID-19 outbreaks which represent three quarters of Canada’s beef supply. However, meat consumption is one of the leading causes of per capita emissions. In 2019, the IPCC issued a special report which highlighted “[the benefits] for both climate and human health, if people in many rich countries consumed less meat, and if politics would create appropriate incentives to that effect.” Reducing our consumption or normalizing plant based alternatives due to lack of supply and increased costs of meat would give a welcomed relief to our planet.
Increased trust in Science
A 2019 study of Canadians showed that climate denialism was on the rise, up 7 points to 32%, with 30% of respondents claiming they only believed science that “aligned with their personal beliefs”. As people’s realities are challenged by the life-threatening nature of the coronavirus, its not a stretch to believe that more people will see the dangers of ignoring the science. After all, both climate change and the coronavirus are non-human enemies that need a global response to overcome them. Only one of them is invisible.
A Democratic US election victory
Speaking of climate change skeptics, one of them is up for re-election in November. President Trump hasn’t been particularly subtle about destroying our environment. He’s taken the US out of the Paris climate accord, gutted the EPA and has excessively subsidized the coal and oil industry in the name of the economy. Yet, thanks in part to the coronavirus, the US economy is tanking and facing its highest unemployment in nearly a century, oil prices are at an all-time low and public opinion of Trump and his handling of the crisis are disastrous. One of the best progressive compromises Joe Biden can make is being historically bold on climate change. The 2019 Canadian election showed this can be part of a winning formula and if Biden succeeds, it definitely would be a good result for our climate.
The Growing need for a Green New Deal
The case for a Green New Deal couldn’t be more apparent. With hundreds of millions out of work in the future, there is a clear need for mass scale public works programs. What better industry to invest in than our future. A Green New Deal already has strong public advocacy and could lead to increased investments in infrastructure projects such as renewable energy creation, electric transit and more localized food supplies.