Covid-19: What must we learn?

Naomi Harris

By Naomi Harris, GLOBUS Correspondent 

The spread of Coronavirus has changed every aspect of our daily lives. The destruction it has caused to individuals, families and friends has been devastating. In no way do I want to disregard that fundamental fact. COVID-19 has been one of humanity’s greatest trials, and no number of positives can outweigh that. However, as with any bad experience there is the possibility to learn and grow, to see a lasting change across this planet that will benefit generations to come. 

Coronavirus has brought our world to a halt. The reduction of travel internationally via planes, individuals’ daily commutes into work, and restrictions on freedom of movement has seen global emissions plummet. Most significantly in Italy the concentrations of nitrous oxide (NO2) in the atmosphere – a gaseous air pollutant that forms when fossil fuels are burned during activities such as driving, the running of plants and factories, etc – has decreased rapidly due to its nationwide lockdown. As you can see, below, from the diagram of Wuhan, the last month has seen a huge drop in pollution compared to previous years. Similarly, in the United States major cities like New York and Los Angeles have been placed under similar lockdowns. In New York, compared to 2019, carbon monoxide had been reduced by nearly 50% due to the decrease in car usage. 

These reductions in pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions are having an important social impact too. We are seeing a revitalisation of the community spirit of our grandparent’s generations. Whole communities are coming together to support neighbours – strangers – in this time of crisis. Families are having the opportunity to spend time with each other. Ordinary citizens are greatly adjusting their daily lives to help stop the spread of COVID-19; to protect and preserve the vulnerable. So why are people reluctant to change for the health of our climate? 

“It was never about believing or disbelieving. It’s about what doesn’t directly affect them and what does” 

Obviously, the need to act is quick, and people understand the urgency of the situation. They hear the news, they know the stats. However, we have now learnt that we don’t need that Easter getaway to have time as a family, and we now realise that it is possible to work from home and reduce your need to commute so much. The luxuries that we refused to give up when initially recommended to help slow climate change we have now done within weeks for the good of the planet. Now that it affects us directly, we are willing to change. Yet, once this passes, and it will, we cannot go back to how we lived our lives before. The same scientists who have told you to wash your hands and stay at home have warned you of extreme weather patterns and food insecurity. To see a future for this planet we need the systems change that we have proved during this pandemic is possible. There are no more excuses. 

With all the loss and pain this global pandemic has caused I would hope that humanity learns from it. From the bad may some good come. May we see the changes that have been promised to us for years. In the threat of Coronavirus our planet came together as one, and I hope that in the threat of climate change we will do so again. 

As Sally Uren from Forum for the Future says: We have an opportunity to create a story we want to hear, one we can learn from when we look back at how we dealt with COVID-19 – and the climate crisis. What happens next is down to all of us. 

Header Image: Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash 

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