If there’s one thing the global outbreak of COVID-19 has taught us, it’s that things are more possible than they seem. And for climate activists, this pandemic has proved that when it’s needed, global action is possible – and it’s desperately needed to fight the climate crisis. 

Will our new lifestyles help the fight against climate change?

Since COVID-19 started its world tour, it’s caused countrywide lockdowns, which restricted and hindered businesses and individuals like never before in living memory. As ‘business as usual’ came to an almighty halt, so too did carbon emissions and air pollution. 

There’ve been reports in both China and northern Italy of a dramatic drop in air pollution over the weeks of national lockdown. In northern India, the air pollution has cleared so much, that the Himalayas have become visible, even from 200km away. 

There’ve been images shared of the clear waters of the Venitian canals, with fish and swans swimming freely. Even reports of fracking in the Northern Territory coming to an abrupt halt. 

These first signs of environmental relief stirred hope across the world, that perhaps the societal and lifestyle changes we’re all making to assuage coronavirus, would in turn, be maintained to help fight the much more sinister and multi-faceted challenge of climate change. 

But after a week or so of cancelled events and holidays, job losses, economies going under, and much of the world sitting at home twiddling their thumbs, it became obvious that this lifestyle isn’t one that we’ll happily pursue for much longer than we need to. Too much has been sacrificed.

In fact, once everyone’s let free from their homes I reckon people will travel more than ever. Everyone’s getting antsy, their feet itchy and they’re realising what a privilege it is to be able to go outside, to see the world. And they’ll want to embrace it even more. 

So although for the meantime, with fewer cars on the road and planes in the sky, there are less harmful greenhouse gases being produced, this’ll only be temporary. And the decline won’t be enough to change the course of our environmental fate. But now we know how quickly change can be made.

How are coronavirus and climate change similar?

We’ve all become familiar with the concept of the COVID curve, and the dire need to flatten it so we don’t overwhelm our limited health system. The global emissions curb is pretty similar, just on a much bigger time scale. 

  1. It’s on the way up, and as certain tipping points are reached, emissions have the potential to increase exponentially. 
  2. We have the power to help flatten this curve. It’s not quite as simple as staying at home, but it’s just as important. 
  3. We must flatten the curve before the natural systems of our world are overwhelmed and run out of our control. 

Action on climate change is more difficult to enforce, as the threat to humans, especially those living in developed countries, seems less imminent. So let’s treat climate change as a health issue, rather than just an environmental one.

Climate change is a health issue

The current death toll for COVID-19 is 88,405 and counting. The annual number of deaths from diseases caused by outdoor air pollution is 4.2 million

4.2 million people. Every year. That’s a death every five seconds. 

These deaths are silent. They’re not tallied daily. They’re not plastered all over the media. They’re hardly even considered as related to a wider environmental crisis. And this is the death toll for just one effect of climate change. 

The climate crisis may still seem like an intangible issue happening in other countries. But so did coronavirus two months ago. 

Things have changed a lot since then. And one thing that’s been permanently altered is our collective mindset. Our belief in and understanding of what’s possible.

Drastic change is more possible than we realised

Three months ago, no one in Australia would’ve thought we’d be overwhelmed by an out of control global virus. And now we have.

No one thought the government would have enough power to demand everyone stay inside their homes, for an unknown amount of time. And now we are. 

No one thought that the current Liberal Government, with all its talk about bringing Australia’s economy out of debt, would spend $213.6 billion in stimulus packages, wage subsidies and welfare. Boosting Centrelink payments and giving massive industry bailouts. And now they have. 

The things we’ve been told that are too difficult to change – the unalterable, immovable, fixed – are not. 

Individuals can change. 

Businesses can change. 

Governments can change. 

The entire world can change. 

The entire world has changed. And it must do so again, in order for us to fight this greater and more ferocious global epidemic we face. And now we know we can. 


Photos by @bee_pinkdoony