Important Announcements

LESSONS FROM COVID-19 FOR THE CLIMATE CRISIS

The following is an article by Alan Northcutt printed in the Waco Tribune-Herald on April 14, 2020:

LESSONS FROM COVID-19 FOR THE CLIMATE CRISIS

The COVID-19 pandemic, as of March 29, includes 640,000 cases globally, and the United States leads in the number of confirmed cases.  As we shelter in place and observe Center for Disease Control (CDC) precautions, the coronavirus emergency teaches important lessons about the climate crisis.
   
Danger of ignoring science.  The Trump administration’s inadequate response to COVID-19 highlights the danger of rejecting science.  When years ago, public health officials warned of pandemic risk, Trump terminated the Directorate for Bio-Defense and cut the CDC budget.  After the first U.S. case in January, Trump downplayed the danger of COVID-19, gave out misinformation based on “hunches,” delayed using the Defense Production Act for one month and finally declared a national emergency on March 13.        Suppression of climate science has paralleled that of the coronavirus epidemic—but over decades rather than weeks.  Warnings have come from climate scientists since the 1980s and have been fought by the fossil fuel industry through their misinformation campaign, led by the Heartland Institute.   Hopefully the painful lessons of the COVID-19 response fiasco will cripple the pseudoscience misinformation crusade and permit data-led action mitigate the existential danger of the climate crisis.   
   
Greed vs. human well-being.  The classic struggle between the voracious corporate hunger for profit and the people’s health is seen in both COVID-19 and climate change. To benefit corporations, Trump is calling for an end to social distancing well before the epidemiologists recommend an end.  And even now, the fossil fuel corporations remain determined to process every gram of oil, gas, and coal within our planet, even though they realize this would ensure climate catastrophe.  In both cases, the profit of the few is placed above the health and wellbeing of the many. 
   
COVID-19 and climate disruption are both deadly.  As of March 28. 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported 26,494 global coronavirus fatalities.  In comparison, climate change produces some 400,000 deaths annually (Climate Vulnerability Monitor), with approximately 7,000,000 deaths from air pollution, both largely due to burning fossil fuels. The coronavirus pandemic is an acute global disaster which could kill several million over 18 months.  And the climate-pollution crisis is a chronic disaster, killing over 7 million this year—and every year until the world cuts emissions. 
   
Why is coronavirus feared, but not climate change? First, with Texas cases of COVID-19 skyrocketing and almost 6,000 deaths expected, the infection elicits the primal fear of death.  And although the total death count of the climate crisis is staggering, the risk in Waco may seem small. In reality, a similar 4,200 are estimated to die annually in Texas from air pollution (thesolutionsproject.org)--every year.  And second, the coronavirus, under electron microscopy, has the sinister appearance of a gladiator’s spiked ball.  Carbon dioxide, on the other hand, is a villain you can’t see, an innocuous molecule of carbon and oxygen.   
         
Climate change increases COVID-19 risk.  Climate change increases the risk of respiratory viral infections, such as COVID-19, in two ways.  First, the incidence of human exposure to these viruses has risen.  Approximately 65% of new emerging diseases are now zoonoses, spread from animals to humans. The warming world and deforestation contribute to loss of suitable habitat for many species.  As these animals migrate in search of appropriate conditions, contact with humans increase and viral pathogens may jump to man.  Second, air pollution, especially the small particulate form (PM 2.5), worsens lung function and immune response, increasing the risk of acquiring respiratory infection, and worsening the prognosis once disease is acquired.
   
The COVID-19 pandemic decreased emissions.  A beneficial but temporary side effect of the pandemic are areas of decreased atmospheric nitrogen dioxide (NO2), a toxic air pollutant, emitted by vehicles and industries.  Satellite imagery found a 10 to 40% decrease in China, South Korea, Italy, the U.K. and the U.S. Further, CO2 levels, currently at 415.5ppm, have temporarily stabilized.  This decrease in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions obliterates the frequent denialist claim that man can do nothing to combat climate change.   And these observations are good news, indicating the climate system is very sensitive to mankind’s decrease emission of GHGs, even if for a limited time.
   
A brighter future is possible.  Once the COVID-19 pandemic has resolved, there is no doubt we will respect epidemiologists and become better prepared for the next pandemic.  And we hope climate scientists will also be respected and their warnings finally heeded, by declaration of a National Climate Emergency, since we know that the danger of climate breakdown is even greater than coronavirus—threatening human civilization as we know it.  And we know that a national emergency response is possible, that citizens will take part, and that our actions can help heal our biosphere.   

                                                                   **********************
   
We invite all artists, professional and amateur, adults and students, to enter the 4th Annual Climate Crisis Art Exhibit, October 2020.  For information and entry form:  www.friendsofpeace.org   


Alan D. Northcutt, MD
Waco, TX
March 29, 2020

Alan Northcutt is a Waco physician and Director of a climate action and education organization, The Waco Friends of Peace/Climate. 

To subscribe to FOP/Climate email list: anorthc@aol.com 


Comments