Canadians along with the rest of the world are fighting with the COVID-19. Canada’s response to this virus is well planned. Almost everybody has taken this threat very seriously and proper reactions are in order. Governments at different levels (local, provincial, federal) have declared states of emergency to fight COVID-19.
A state of emergency has also been declared in many Ontario municipalities in the last year to fight climate change, for example in Burlington, Whitby, and Sudbury. Is it merely a coincidence? Or, are there any connections between the climate change crisis and COVID-19? Perhaps yes. At first glance, both problems are coming from pollution. Those who are exposed to long term air pollution are more likely to suffer from critical symptoms. Air pollution is a factor that can cause pre-existing conditions that are believed to intensify COVID-19 symptoms. Most of the COVID-19 victims had pre-existing conditions. Among other pre-existing conditions are complications related to being overweight e.g. hypertension and diabetes. Walking or biking not only reduces the chance of being overweight but reduces greenhouse gas emissions too.
Finally, what did really cause COVID-19? The exact source is not fully known yet; however, it is from extensive human-wildlife exposure. It is not the first time this exposure is causing a problem. Ebola was transmitted to humans for the same reason. Deforestation forces wildlife to become in closer contact with us. Malaria, Dengue Fever, and many other diseases can be traced back to deforestation and other forms of disturbing the environment.
The way that we treat the environment determines our future as there are long-term influences that unfold later. Therefore, COVID-19 and climate change are closely related. Many climate change control solutions could help reduce the spread or death related to COVID-19. However, the response of the residents to the climate crisis and the COVID-19 is different. There are various reasons for this dual response to the states of emergencies. The COVID-19 is acting much faster than climate change effects. It can cause death at a different time scale compared to climate change. That is perhaps the main reason for some panic reactions we observe these days. It is highly contagious, and moreover, the effect of COVID-19 is similar everywhere around the globe i.e. it causes illness or death. Air pollution causes 7 million death per year in the world; but generally, climate change impacts are site-specific. In some regions, rainfall events follow an increasing trend while in another region the rainfall events may not change or even may reduce.
The future is unknown in the climate change crisis, but COVID-19 is showing a single fast coming future. That is why climate change response and adaptation plans have uncertainties and are usually tailored for specific regions. These responses can hardly be transferred elsewhere with different natural, geographic, and cultural conditions. In the climate change discussions, the enemy is not clearly known but for the COVID-19 crisis, the enemy is a virus. Therefore, mobilization can be achieved easier and faster.
Are there any similarities between COVID-19 and climate change emergencies? What lessons can be learned? Both emergencies are health-related. COVID-19 showed Canadian people that if everybody i.e. the government and citizens, collaborate toward the same goal, difficult targets can be reached. Canada is among countries with low death rates per million people and this is an indicator of what the residents can do if properly informed. The fact that COVID-19 acts much faster than climate change does not mean that climate change should be ignored until the conditions are critical (which in fact they are). Rather, it simply implies that both these health-related emergencies can be successfully managed by a synergy. COVID-19 truly shows that ignoring the problem cannot be a long-term solution and delayed decisions can lead to irreversible outcomes. The silver lining of COVID-19 is the potential of climate change fight when the residents play their role: the lockdown of China had a massive positive influence on the air quality. Scientists believe that this improved air quality prevents 77,000 air pollution-related deaths in China, which is 20 times more than COVID-19 victims. NASA scientists also confirmed the trend in air quality improvement. This implies that we can fight climate change if we want. And, yes, there is a cost for this fight but inaction costs more.