SciComm Corner – Six vital lessons COVID-19 can teach us about mitigating climate change
Article written by Ingrid Fadelli
For over a year-and-a-half, countries worldwide have been trying to manage the outbreak of COVID-19. The ongoing pandemic came as a surprise for most people. In many ways, the virus reminded us of just how powerful and unpredictable nature can be.
The pandemic has brought enormous change in the world and has forced us to temporarily adapt the way we live, work, travel, and interact with others. Despite all the difficulties faced over the past several months, the COVID-19 crisis could also be teaching us several valuable lessons.
For instance, a recent poll conducted by IPSOS and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) suggests that many people are more worried about the consequences of climate change now than they were before the outbreak of COVID-19. In other words, facing such a sudden global crisis might have forced individuals worldwide to reflect on how powerful nature can be and how much it can affect our survival.
Just like the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change could have and, in many cases, is already having a dramatic impact on our lives, for instance by causing shortages of food or forcing people to move out of their homes after natural disasters. While some countries are already investing significant efforts in trying to mitigate the adverse effects of climate change, much more must be done to limit the problems that could be faced by new generations.
Here are six important lessons that the COVID-19 pandemic could teach us about battling and mitigating climate change:
1. The salience of disseminating reliable and accurate information
The dissemination of fake news was an issue long before the outbreak of COVID-19. Nonetheless, throughout the pandemic, the possibly damaging effects of propagating false information became increasingly apparent.
From websites suggesting miraculous cures for the virus to conspiracy theories linking its outbreak with 5G internet, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to an explosion of misinformation and inspired a vast range of misleading ‘news’ articles. In many cases, this fake information has led to disruptions and encouraged individuals to act erratically, for instance by damaging 5G towers or not seeking medical help.
The extent to which fake news influenced people’s behaviour over the past few years shows us just how much it is vital for people to have access to reliable sources of information during a global crisis. This is also true when it comes to information about climate change, as reliable news and tips could ultimately encourage people to adapt their behaviour in desirable ways, informing them about strategies to protect our planet; while fake news might prompt them to act in ways that that are unhelpful, counterproductive, or even harmful for the planet.
2. Planet Earth does not wait for us
While some scientists had theorised about the possibility of a viral pandemic occurring, the outbreak of COVID-19 was very sudden, and governments worldwide had to intervene rapidly to limit its spread. Similarly, the scientific community has been discussing the risks of climate change for several years now, yet it could have unexpected effects and cause huge disruptions at any given time.
COVID-19 has thus taught us the importance of planning in advance, and has highlighted the need for early interventions. In the future, it could encourage governments to implement new plans to safeguard the environment, with the hope of mitigating the effects of climate change, preventing natural disasters, and preparing people to face unexpected environmental threats.
3. International cooperation is crucial to overcome world challenges
Negotiations between different countries have been of utmost importance throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, as they ultimately enabled the distribution and dissemination of both valuable resources and knowledge. Whether in the form of medical staff, research findings, equipment, or pharmaceutical products, nations worldwide were forced to collaborate and exchange goods to face a shared, global challenge.
In addition, the pandemic encouraged greater solidarity between countries, with wealthier nations deciding to help less advantaged ones with battling the virus. A few weeks ago, for instance, the G7 promised to donate one billion doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to poorer countries.
Overall, the past two years have proved how much more impact interventions can have when countries are working together toward a common goal. International cooperation is of equal importance when it comes to battling climate change and the current crisis might thus encourage greater cooperation in the future.
4. Science, research and innovation are essential
COVID-19 forced scientists worldwide to work at an unprecedented pace, to rapidly gain a good understanding of the virus and identify possible treatments. COVID-19 vaccines, for instance, were developed in under a year, an incredibly short time when compared to vaccines developed in the past. The vaccine for mumps, for instance, was developed in four years, while other vaccines took even longer.
Governments and innovators were also forced to come up with new strategies and solutions to contain the virus and limit its spread, ranging from virus tracking apps to new medical protective gear or temperature measuring technology. The COVID-19 crisis thus confirmed the crucial role of research and innovation when facing global challenges.
Scientific researchers and innovators are also playing a key role in the mitigation of climate change, for instance through the development of sensors to detect pollution, solar technology, or sustainable materials.
5. Individuals can do a lot
To limit the spread of COVID-19, governments introduced several rules and social distancing measures, ranging from the use of masks to full lockdowns. The effectiveness of these regulations and interventions, however, depended in great part on the willingness of individuals to follow and abide by them.
The pandemic thus highlighted the importance of personal responsibility when tackling a global crisis, encouraging people to reflect about their actions and how they might affect others. Climate change is the direct result of human activity on Earth, thus mitigating it will also require individuals to consider changing their behaviour and habits. The current crisis has taught us how much the behaviour of single individuals matters and how much each of us can do to protect our community and our planet, as well as new or future generations.
6. Nature rapidly adapts to our actions
Finally, the COVID-19 pandemic offered us the invaluable chance to see with our own eyes how responsive our environment is to our actions. Lockdown measures and the risk of contagion led to a drastic decrease in human travel, temporarily reducing air and noise pollution resulting from the transit of planes, motor vehicles, boats, ships, and other fuel-based means of transportation.
While people were housebound, their opportunities for littering public parks or spaces were also reduced. Research studies consistently reported considerable reductions in air pollutants before and at the end of lockdowns, while some pictures captured striking images of wildlife entering urban spaces worldwide.
The fast adaptation of natural environments and animals to the decrease in human activity during the COVID-19 crisis proves just how fast our planet can adapt to our collective behaviours. In a way, therefore, lockdown measures allowed us to partly observe how the future could be if our efforts to mitigate climate change are successful.
Along with the adversities that all countries worldwide faced due to COVID-19, the past months could thus serve as a valuable example of how we can work together to tackle a global crisis. Ultimately, the ways in which we tackled the pandemic might inspire the development of more effective strategies to safeguard the environment and mitigate the impact of climate change, paving the way towards a greener and more sustainable future.
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