By Kendra Beazer
The author is a first year Environmental Policy graduate student at Lehigh University.
Amidst the novel coronavirus, our planet continues to grapple with unprecedented effects of climate change. Our leaders must act fast and firm in addressing climate change in the same swift manner in which they are fighting the global pandemic.
According to the World Health Organization climate change may indirectly affect the COVID-19 response, as it undermines environmental determinants of health, and places additional stress on health systems. More generally, most emerging infectious diseases, and almost all recent pandemics, originate in wildlife, and there is evidence that increasing human pressure on the natural environment may drive disease emergence.
In fact, deforestation causes climate change as well as disease pandemics. As humans diminish biodiversity by cutting down forests and building more infrastructure, they’re increasing the risk of disease pandemics such as COVID-19. While the extinction of forests creates a change in earth temperature; making it warmer. It is coupled with the survival of rats and bats, that are known carriers of potentially dangerous pathogens with the ability of producing new virus outbreaks.
Moreover, COVID 19 is airborne and exists in areas where there exist high levels of pollution. Over 90% of the global population lives in places where the World Health Organization outdoor air quality guideline levels are not met, and about two-thirds of this exposure is caused by burning of fossil fuels, which also drives climate change.
Additionally, ethnic minority communities have been lacking access to clean water and adequate healthcare prior to COVID 19 but became more evident during the pandemic. In states such as Flint Michigan that have been impacted by a climate induced water crisis, African Americans are impacted disproportionately by COVID-19 deaths: Blacks represent 14%, and account for 40% of COVID-19 deaths, respectively.
Also, invariably each year one or more of Caribbean islands has to completely rebuild because of the increasing strength of climate induced hurricanes; Puerto Rico, Bahamas, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Haiti and so many more. According to the Inter-American Development Bank, the coronavirus represents the second major economic shock in a year for the Bahamas; hurricane Dorian inflicted losses that amounted to $3.4 billion, or 27% of Bahamas GDP. Similarly, in Antigua and Barbuda, more than 70% of the country’s annual gross domestic product (GDP) comes from the tourism industry and ancillary sectors. With the lockdown and stay at home measure imposed, the tourism industry has been brought to its knees, leaving many without jobs and causing financial hardship for thousands while, still grappling with the effects of climate induced hurricane Irma that destroyed 95% of Barbuda’s infrastructure in 2017.
Strengthening health systems, improved surveillance of infectious disease in wildlife, livestock and humans, and greater protection of biodiversity and the natural environment, should reduce the risks of future outbreaks of other new diseases. Tackling such a complex challenge thus requires action on many fronts to reduce the risk of even more premature deaths associated with climate induced disasters and disease pandemics.
Therefore, in order for nations to fully recover from the ravages of COVID 19 we must tackle the existential threat of climate change that has been plaguing our planet for decades. Ending the climate crisis and fully recovering from this global pandemic is the space race of millennials.
From cradle to grave – they are related! We must act now! We need to speak up, show up, organise and vote for a green agenda!