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COVID-19 vs the Climate Emergency: Part 2

Welcome to Part 2 (of 4) of the debate between COVID-19 and the climate emergency. If you missed Part 1, go back and read it before you begin.

Let’s have a quick recap: I’m comparing the way the world has responded to COVID-19 vs the climate emergency. While the debate over climate change has continued for decades, there was no delay in responding to the Coronavirus pandemic. Why the difference? Part 1 looked at the imminent fear of death as a huge driver for action. In part 2 we’ll investigate which event is more ‘current’. Let’s get stuck in.

2. COVID-19 is current, is climate change?

We’re watching the threat of COVID-19 play out in real time, with the World Health Organisation (WHO) releasing daily situation reports. In the last 2 weeks, the number of deaths has more than quadroupled to over 33,000 (7426 as of 17th March compared to 33 108 as of 31st March).

Figure 1. Countries, territories or areas with reported confirmed cases of COVID-19, 30 March 2020. Taken from WHO situation report 70.

Is the threat of climate change as urgent? Earth’s climate has always been naturally changing. But, human-induced (anthropogenic) climate change has been causing changes to our atmosphere and weather pattens since the the Industrial Revolution. See the latest IPCC report for details (for quick facts read the summary for policymakers).

Scientists have been warning of the dangers of climate change since the 1970s. In fact, British engineer Guy Stewart Callendar noticed significant warming of the United States and North Atlantic region, and linked this to increased carbon emissions back in the 1930s!

Poster fact sheet from the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), 2013.

“Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia. The atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, sea level has risen, and the concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased.”

Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Here’s some unprecedented climate events that have occurred in the last decade:

  • In February this year Antarctica experienced the highest temperature on record (+20°C).
  • The Middle East, North Africa and Afghanistan (MENA region) have been experiencing unprecedented high temperatures: 54°C at Mitribah, Kuwait in 2016 and, in the same week, Basra in Iraq recorded 53.9°C.
  • Between 2000 and 2016, the number of vulnerable people exposed to heatwaves increased by 123 million.
  • In Pakistan more than 90% of natural disasters over the last 40 years have been triggered by climate change.
  • To find out more on how climate change will affect you read this guardian article (Aus only).

Only recently Australia saw the devastation that can be caused by increasing temperatures. Australia’s 2019/2020 summer months saw higher temperatures, extreme dryness, and extreme bursts of fire weather. All of these factors contributed to 2019/2020 being named the worst bushfire seasons on record. As climate change worsens, we are seeing unprecedented weather patterns that we are truly not equipped to respond to.

Clearly, both events are current and affecting communities worldwide. So, why else are we so slow to act on the climate emergency?

Part 3: sneak peak

On Thursday I’ll be releasing my favourite part of this discussions, Part 3: The Media. In this part I’ll discuss the role the media plays in creating panic and hysteria over COVID-19 vs the role it has played in suppressing the climate emergency. See you then!


Published by busybeebella

An energetic and enthusiastic young writing passionate about scientific communication.

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