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How Will The Coronavirus Lockdown Impact Climate Change?

Updated: June 19, 2024 | Published: May 21, 2020

Updated: June 19, 2024

Published: May 21, 2020


The coronavirus pandemic has caused detrimental outcomes for education, people, society, and the economy. Yet, if there’s one silver lining from the messiness of it all, it’s the lessons we can learn and apply to climate change. While coronavirus has not and cannot completely solve the issues of climate change, it has been able to provide insight into how the world can approach the global crisis of climate change.

While many people are sharing images of clear water in Venice, Italy or visible skylines in Los Angeles, California, climate change is still a very real and large-scale problem. The temporary reprieve of human consumption and travel during this pandemic has brought the importance of our environment back into broad and public consideration. It has also shown us how collective action is necessary to fight against global problems like climate change.

What Coronavirus Is Teaching Us

From the coronavirus pandemic, the world has been united. Everyone is fighting against the same invisible danger. This has brought together people from around the globe to be more compassionate and take steps to benefit the greater good rather than solely to serve their own individual needs.

The coronavirus has also shown us the importance of healthcare and the interconnectedness of people.

So far, we have learned that:

  • We need equitable health systems to support people against health threats (like COVID-19 and climate change)
  • Although some people have adequate cares, others are left destitute without insurance or healthcare facilities. Social and economic inequality is clear to see when it comes to healthcare.
  • Throughout the fight against COVID-19, people have made dramatic and nearly instantaneous changes to their daily lives by staying at home and social distancing. Like COVID-19, people will have to make long-term changes and shift their behavior to protect the environment. This pandemic has proven that change is possible if everyone is aligned in achieving the same goal.
  • One of the most important effects of the coronavirus is the feeling of interconnectedness and shared humanity. We all inhabit the same Earth, and it requires that we all take adequate measures to protect it.

The Facts Matter

Coronavirus and climate change have faced the same patterns in terms of fact and denial. Although there was scientific evidence that the disease was spreading rapidly, some politicians and leaders wasted time to take action against the spread.

In a similar fashion, there is proof that the Earth is facing rising temperatures and action is necessary to slow the spread of detrimental consequences. However, there are climate change deniers who work against these actions. In the long run, this will only cause further harm.

Business closed post-it because of COVID-19
Photo by Anastasiia Chepinska on Unsplash

Short-Term Benefits, Long-Term Struggle

Both crises present a long-term struggle. While the short-term benefits of containing COVID-19 can be seen on a daily basis (i.e., countries marking days with no new cases, people coming out of the ICU and surviving the virus, etc.), accepting the world’s “new normal” is a long-term change that everyone will face.

From a phased approach of reopening businesses to grocery stores having to check a customer’s temperature before being granted entry, the world has dramatically changed because of the pandemic. There’s no timeline to say if and when all these short-term effects could be reversed.

On the other hand, climate change has been happening and is an effect of human existence in the long-run. However, people have made small steps to support the slowing of its detrimental effects. From stores removing plastic bags to restaurants getting rid of plastic straws, the small short-term changes still will require a long-term effort.

The Big Differences: COVID-19 And Climate Change

Although COVID-19 has brought together humanity on a global scale to fight against a global problem, it’s inherently different to climate change.

For starters, the individual incentive for social distancing can be understood immediately. For those who practice social distancing, they are not only trying to protect others, but they are also protecting themselves from getting the virus. As such, the incentive is high to do the right thing, while it also aligns to benefit the greater good.

On the other hand, those who lessen their carbon footprint don’t get to quantify their actions and experience the rewards immediately. While it may feel good to do the right thing, their personal health will not be directly affected because of their habits.

While this change is a big differentiator on a personal level, it looms larger on a macro level. For example, take a country that enacts regulations to limit their dependence on fossil fuels. When fossil fuels are cheap, the benefit on an economic level is low to the country. Yet, the global climate benefit is highly positive. The further apart the micro and macro benefits are from one another, the harder it is to incentivize individuals to take steps to protect Mother Nature.

COVID-19 Effects On Climate Change

On the surface, it seems like the pandemic that has kept people indoors for months and shut down businesses will help benefit the climate change crisis. However, law professor and director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, Michael Gerrard brings up a good point. He shares that COVID-19 has caused oil prices to plunge, which will have a negative side effect on choosing renewable energy sources instead. When oil prices are so cheap, “it’s more difficult for renewables to compete”.

On the bright side, the decreased travel has not only reduced the air pollution levels in cities around the world, but it’s also given the space and freedom for animals to roam freely in their natural environments. The pandemic is also teaching people about the importance of face-to-face interaction and travel.

In fact, transportation is the biggest creator of greenhouse gas emissions. Through this period, people have started to realize when it is and when it is not important to be communicating in person. This could change transportation needs for the long-term and mean that virtual meetings and communication could replace unnecessary travel in the future. This would have a very positive effect on climate change.

One World sign
Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

What COVID-19 Can Teach Us About Dealing With Climate Change

The biggest and most undeniable lesson that everyone can take from this pandemic is that it takes a global response to deal with a global problem. Like coronavirus, climate change is an issue that impacts every person’s health and ultimate wellbeing.

As such, it requires action on behalf of individuals, cities, and countries around the world to take a stand against climate change. Steps to sustainability can start with an individual or even on school campuses. Only by working together will the world be able to address and curb the detrimental effects of climate change.

Furthermore, although it may be hard to gauge an individual’s impact on the climate, it can be seen how every small action ultimately contributes to the larger picture. People are interconnected and although we may live far apart (or remain socially distanced), every action is met with a reaction. That’s why it’s important to do your part in curbing the spread of coronavirus, as well as doing what you can do to reduce your carbon footprint.

Things To Remember

From COVID-19, we can see that people shouldn’t just wait for the government to take action. The power is within your hands to make the change and be the change you wish to see.

Additionally, if the government is responding too slowly, use your voice to push for changes to be made. Take it from teenage climate change activist Greta Thunberg, “The moment we decide to fulfill something, we can do anything”.

At UoPeople, our blog writers are thinkers, researchers, and experts dedicated to curating articles relevant to our mission: making higher education accessible to everyone.