What COVID-19 Can Teach Us About Addressing Climate ChangeApril 22nd, 2020
To say it’s hard to be hopeful as millions of people around the world are impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic is an understatement. At the time of this writing, hundreds of thousands have become ill and nearly 40,000 have died. Some have family members to help coordinate their care; others are facing the situation on their own. There are those who are healthy but have lost their jobs, and healthcare workers who have job security but are facing unprecedented professional challenges. There are the working parents, stretched thin across demanding jobs with children who need their attention now more than ever. On top of all that, the very nature of social distancing rules out those life-affirming, tangible connections we all need to get through tough times.
But from another perspective, the lifestyle changes many of us have been forced to adopt due to the pandemic can teach us something important about another critical challenge we’re facing as a global community: climate change.
In China, the reduced demand for coal and other fossil fuels has already improved the air quality so much that it’s estimated to have saved between 50,000 and 75,000 people of dying prematurely from air pollution. The snow-capped Himalayas are now visible to residents of Northern India for the first time in decades. In Los Angeles, where we’re headquartered, we’re experiencing the longest stretch of “good” air since 1980. In Yosemite National Park and others around the country, wildlife has emerged in the absence of the usual crush of tourists.
Environmental activists have been asking us to rethink our habits—particularly our reliance on disposable goods—for years. As we’ve all had to limit our trips to the grocery store, it’s impossible not to view our resources differently now that supply isn’t as plentiful. Bidets are a sustainable, low-cost, and low-stress solution to hoarding toilet paper. A thick stack of hand towels can function as an unlimited supply of paper towels. Personal products like tampons and disposable baby diapers can be swapped out for reusable menstrual cups and cloth diapers. And now that we’re all trying to make our food stretch a bit further between grocery runs, it’s a chance to revisit our ambivalence about food waste.
The COVID-19 pandemic is a harsh way to learn these lessons, and for many, seeing any silver lining in these times may be simply impossible. But for those of us who can learn something from this experience, we must. What we take away from this time will shape our ability to confront this next challenge together. Just as with the pandemic, climate change requires each of us to do our part, changing what we consider normal for the greater good and staying hopeful at the very time when it feels most challenging to do so.