In recent weeks, coronavirus quarantines in China have closed factories, roads and airports, and sharply cut emissions of greenhouse gases and air pollution. These effects are likely just temporary, however, they’ve led some people who are concerned about climate change to look for a silver lining in the outbreak.
People are dying. No one should be cheering.
Wishing for a disaster to make the large-scale changes that scientists say are necessary to prevent a planetary collapse is counterproductive. Remember, we’re doing this to *save* lives. Cheering on the coronavirus because of climate change isn’t progress, it’s eco-fascism. It’s the same logic that eugenicists use to argue for population control, or racists use to preach ethnic nationalism and anti-immigration policies in an era of climate emergency. Discrimination and death are not the way to reduce emissions.
Ending the climate emergency is not just about reducing emissions. It’s about treating each other better.
And, it’s very likely that the ultimate climate legacy of the coronavirus will be a setback to global efforts to transition to a zero-carbon society. Due to the sudden drop in aerosols, temperatures could actually rise this year in regions where factories are shuttered. Time and money governments spend fighting sudden wars and recessions and outbreaks — and propping up the economy in the meantime — have historically not been kind to the concerns of those on the margins of society. We should be working to end this epidemic as quickly and as compassionately as possible.
“Controlling the outbreak and maintaining economic growth are now going to be China’s top priority,” Li Shuo, a senior policy adviser for Greenpeace Asia, told the New York Times. “And we’ve seen in the past, whenever economic growth needs to be prioritised, the environmental agenda takes a back seat.”
For the record, as a US American, I’m much more scared of the Trump administration’s response to the virus than I am of the virus itself.
If we learned anything from the horrors of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, it’s that Trump has weaponised his lack of planning ahead and meeting the needs of communities at risk.
There is one important takeaway from the coronavirus as it relates to climate, though. Sophia Geiger, a 17-year old climate activist from Washington, DC, tweeted this week: “Imagine if the media reported on the climate crisis like it does on the coronavirus. Headline news every day, constantly releasing an updated death toll, analysing whether world leaders are doing enough, most importantly, making public believe this is something to take seriously.”
We already have all the tools we need to end our climate emergency. We don’t need a virus outbreak to do what we can do, together, with solidarity and courage.