COVID-19 and the Climate Crisis, Part I

By: John A. Lanier

The COVID-19 virus was not caused by climate change. But this virus probably isn’t the last one that will spill over into the human population. It’s entirely possible that the next one will have that direct link to climate.

Hello COVID-19, here I am again, back for more. I can’t seem to think about anything else. My wife and I spent a lovely, candlelit, device-free evening last Saturday to recognize Earth Hour, and we STILL couldn’t avoid talking about this pandemic (it was a deep and thoughtful conversation though). Oh well, I guess I might as well accept the reality of the coronavirus’s vice-grip on my mind and start a three-part series exploring the linkages between this virus and the climate crisis.

There are some surprising connections between the two, which might not be apparent at first glance. Next week I will discuss the decarbonization opportunities that will be available when the long-term economic recovery from this pandemic begins. The following week I will consider what analogical lessons we can learn from COVID-19 and apply to climate action. For this week though, I want to be more direct and explore the linkage between climate and the cause of this disease.

I’ll take this in two steps, first discussing what we know is NOT true, and then discussing what we know IS true. As to the former, let me be as clear as possible: there is no evidence that climate change caused the outbreak of this novel coronavirus. Maybe you are thinking, “Duh, why did he even need to say that?” It’s because some have tried to argue that link exists.

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By burning fossil fuels these last couple hundred years, we’ve been borrowing against our carbon budget and our climate future. Trillions of tons of carbon have been spent into the atmosphere, and we now need to pay them back by returning them to the earth.

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