Climate change and Covid-19

Mila Brandson, News Editor

The pandemic has undoubtedly altered the lives of many, however, this crisis may have staggering implications on and combined with another concerning global issue: climate change. 

According to a study by Harvard researchers, fine particle air pollution, PM 2.5 caused primarily by burning fossil fuels, is related to higher COVID-19 deaths. 

This puts many of the same communities most impacted by climate change at an increased risk for COVID-19, and causes homeless individuals as well as those lacking air filtration to be more vulnerable to both air pollution and disease transmission.

Similarly, extreme weather conditions caused by climate change have forced agriculture and food production to infringe on animal habitats. As a result, disease transmission has become more frequent as animals migrate and potentially contact other animals or people typically not a part of their natural environment. 

In Brazil, deforestation used to clear land for cattle grazing poses dangerous risks not only to habitat-loss, but also to carbon emissions. In the midst of the pandemic, illegal deforestation of the Amazon Rainforest has soared.

An article from Columbia University’s State of the Planet mentions “Between January and April [2020], 464 square miles of the rainforest were razed, 55 percent more area than was destroyed in the same period in 2019.”

The Amazon rainforest absorbs an immense amount of carbon dioxide, nearly two billion tons from the atmosphere each year, making it vital to the health of the planet and absorbing emissions. 

Although voluntary measures taken by various countries during last year’s lockdowns to reduce the spread of coronavirus decreased individual emissions, later findings showed a lack of impact produced to effectively combat climate change. 

An article from the Huffington Post examined a recent study on carbon emissions, which says that “the pandemic-induced lockdowns at the start of this year reduced daily global CO2 emissions by up to 17% compared to the mean daily level in 2019…But the total worldwide reduction for the year is likely only between 4.2% and 7.5% compared to the previous year.”

The lockdowns also caused disposable products to become customary for many. Plastic from single-use gloves, masks, packaging, disposable shopping bags, take out containers, and online shopping has drastically increased, adding to the issue of pollution.

Due to the ineffectiveness of voluntary measures, many experts turn to government action as a necessity for reduction of emissions. 

In January, the Biden administration rejoined the Paris Climate Agreement. Additionally, the European Commission has put forth a proposal for an $825 billion economic recovery plan with a goal to become carbon neutral by 2050. 

Despite these steps toward greener governing, in many cases climate policy has been weakened due to the pandemic, including the rollback of U.S. environmental policy following last year’s lockdowns. 

An executive order signed by former President Trump gave federal agencies the ability to waive environmental review of infrastructure policies. As a result, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), that allows communities to weigh in on the impacts of potential projects, was majorly weakened.

Comparatively, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is temporarily allowing companies to “monitor themselves” to determine if they are in violation of air and water quality regulations. Some experts are outraged by this action, saying that it essentially allows companies to pollute without restriction.

The pandemic has also caused many conferences with goals of furthering international climate action to be postponed to a later date. For instance, the annual United Nations Climate Change Conference, initially planned for Nov. 2020, has been delayed for a year. The World Conservation Congress global evaluation and the Convention on Biological Diversity have also been rescheduled. 

The delays have the potential to hinder the application of environmentally-friendly COVID-19 relief plans around the world, and separate concerns about health and the environment. 

As the world moves forward from the pandemic, it is necessary to recognize the connections between the climate crisis and global health policy. In order to recover from the pandemic and decrease climate damage, solutions will have to address both issues.