– Apr. 4th 2020 9:00 am ET
Arthur Wyns, a climate change adviser to the World Health Organization (WHO), wrote an op-ed for the World Economic Forum about how climate change and the coronavirus are linked. You can read the full article here, but below is an excerpt. Wyns makes four crucial points that humanity needs to note and act upon.
A first lesson we are drawing from the COVID-19 pandemic and how it relates to climate change is that well-resourced, equitable health systems with a strong and supported health workforce are essential to protect us from health security threats, including climate change. The austerity measures that have strained many national health systems over the past decade will have to be reversed if economies and societies are to be resilient and prosperous in an age of change.
Secondly, the ongoing pandemic illustrates how inequality is a major barrier in ensuring the health and wellbeing of people, and how social and economic inequality materializes in unequal access to healthcare systems. For example, the health threat of the novel coronavirus is, on average, greater for cities and people exposed to higher levels of pollution, which are most often people living in poorer areas. The same is true for the health impacts of climate change, with one of its major causes, the burning of fossil fuels, also adding pollution to the air and disproportionately impacting the health of those in poverty.
Third, the global health crisis we find ourselves in has forced us to dramatically change our behavior in order to protect ourselves and those around us, to a degree most of us have never experienced before. This temporary shift of gears could lead to a long-term shift in old behaviors and assumptions, which could lead to a public drive for collective action and effective risk management. Even though climate change presents a slower, more long-term health threat, an equally dramatic and sustained shift in behavior will be needed to prevent irreversible damage.
Lastly, crises like these offer an opportunity for a regained sense of shared humanity, in which people realize what matters most: the health and safety of their loved ones, and by extension the health and safety of their community, country, and fellow global citizens. Both the climate crisis and unfolding pandemic threaten this one thing we all care about.
A final thought from all of us at Electrek: For those of you who are frustrated with people ignoring stay-at-home orders and making the pandemic problem worse for all of us, this is how environmentalists have felt for decades about polluters and the climate crisis.