One thing the COVID-19 pandemic has done, on the positive side, is prepare us for crises. But, while the novel coronavirus is sweeping through the human population of this planet like a wildfire in Northern California, climate change is more like a slowly heating pot of water that we're all sitting in like frogs waiting to be boiled to death. Carbon dioxide (CO2) levels and global average temperatures are rising just as relentlessly, if not as rapidly, as coronavirus cases.
As of March 30, 2020, at 10:15 am Pacific Daylight Time there were 755,367 cases worldwide, with 36,273 deaths. See Coronavirus Update for current figures.
Countries that have been under lockdown in response to the pandemic have seen a noticeable drop in greenhouse gas emissions. Scientists have pointed to this as a lesson in how to prepare for, or avoid, the worst impacts of climate change. CO2 comes from industry, electricity production, and transportation. All of these have seen reductions since the stay-at-home measures have risen in scope.
"If we can think about how to prepare for climate change like a pandemic, maybe there will be a positive outcome to all of this," said Christopher Jones, lead developer of the CoolClimate Network, an applied research consortium at the University of California, Berkeley. "I think there are some big-picture lessons here that could be very useful."
Pollution-monitoring satellites operated by NASA and the European Space Agency observed drastic decreases in concentrations of nitrogen dioxide (NO2), which is also released by cars, power plants and industrial facilities, from Jan 1 to Jan 20 and again from Feb 10 to Feb 25. Studying NO2 concentration in the atmosphere can help scientists understand other heat-trapping greenhouse gases that drive global warming. Both China and Northern Italy have recorded significant falls in NO2.
Another noxious gas that has shown significant drops is carbon monoxide (CO). The BBC found that in New York City, CO was down nearly 50% compared to last year.
But experts warn that observed reductions are temporary and that as cities, countries and economies bounce back, so, too, will emissions, unless some major changes are adopted. Jacqueline Klopp, co-director of the Center for Sustainable Urban Development at Columbia University in New York City said the pandemic could make companies and governments realize that other threats to humanity, including climate change, could be just as devastating and that it's imperative to develop protective measures.
"As we move to restart these economies, we need to use this moment to think about what we value," she said. "Do we want to go back to the status quo, or do we want to tackle these big structural problems and restructure our economy to reduce emissions and pollution?"
Last month a poem written by Kitty O'Meara, a Senator in the Irish Seanad (Senate) hit Facebook and immediately went viral. It's titled "And the people stayed home".
And the people stayed home. And read books, and listened, and rested, and exercised, and made art, and played games, and learned new ways of being, and were still. And listened more deeply. Some meditated, some prayed, some danced. Some met their shadows. And the people began to think differently.
And the people healed. And, in the absence of people living in ignorant, dangerous, mindless, and heartless ways, the earth began to heal.
And when the danger passed, and the people joined together again, they grieved their losses, and made new choices, and dreamed new images, and created new ways to live and heal the earth fully, as they had been healed.
Let's heal the Earth!