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COVID-19 vs the Climate Emergency: why act on one and not the other?

Part 1

This week I wanted to write something that delved a little more into the differences between Coronavirus (COVID-19) and the climate emergency, as (potentially) two of the biggest health threats of the 21st Century. This first blog will be part of a 4-part blog series that I’ll be releasing all week! So you can binge-blog here.

Deaths caused by COVID-19 have recently surpassed 20,000 and the world is one toilet-paper-roll-away from panic mode. Should we be as worried about the climate emergency as we are about COVID-19?

“Climate change is the greatest health challenge of the 21st century, and threatens all aspects of society in which we live.”

– World Health Organisation COP24 special report: health and climate change (2018).

This week I’ll discuss the first main reason for the differences in response.

1. The fear of death

One way to compare these two threats is death: how many deaths have been caused by COVID-19 vs how many have been caused by climate change? For COVID-19 the threat of death is extremely real. This is probably a result of unrelentless media coverage. When we turn on the TV, the radio, or open our social media we are bombarded with the latest death tolls.

Have you ever seen ‘death by climate emergency’ written on someone’s death certificate? Neither have I (not that I’ve ever seen a death certificate, but that’s beyond the point). So, is it possible to pronounce someone ‘dead by climate change’? Is it possible count how many people have died as a result of the climate emergency?

Yes, it is. Monash Univeristy recently released a report about the health impacts of the climate crisis. They concluded that climate change is “absolutely” already causing deaths.

  • Air pollution is estimated to cause 7 million deaths globally every year.
  • >90% of the world’s urban populations are breathing levels of outdoor pollutants that exceed WHO’s guidelines
  • A report in Nature predicted that by 2100, 75% of people around the world will be exposed to heatwaves extreme enough to kill
  • Over 70,0000 additional deaths occurred in Europe in 2003 as a result of the European heatwave.
  • This heatwave was made twice as likely by climate change.
Louis Marquez carries his dog Chocolate through floodwaters after rescuing the dog from his flooded apartment 2016, in Houston. Storms have dumped more than a foot of rain in the Houston area, flooding dozens of neighborhoods. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

It is difficult to attribute deaths directly to the climate emergency. But we do know that warming events have led to extreme weather events occuring more frequently. Between 2000 and 2013, the number of extreme weather events rose by 46%. Below is a schematic showing all the deaths that can be caused as an indirect result of the climate emergency.

Schematic showing the indiret of climate change. Ideas taken from the WHO COP24 special report: health and climate change (2018).

A 2017 report in the journal Nature, wrote “Climate change can increase the risk of conditions that exceed human thermoregulatory capacity.” In other words, soon we’ll be experiencing unprecedented weather that our bodies are not equipped to react to.

Stay tuned for part 2. The next topic to be discussed is ‘COVID-19 is current, is climate change?’ See you then!


Published by busybeebella

An energetic and enthusiastic young writing passionate about scientific communication.

3 thoughts on “COVID-19 vs the Climate Emergency: why act on one and not the other?

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