Among the takeaways in the global fight against the coronavirus is the need to come together to tackle thorny problems. We have learnt the benefits of sharing medical equipment and research, staff and scientific expertise, and data. We have also learned the necessity of setting aside our sense of entitlement, our pride, our egos, and hoarding our resources, for the greater good of others. This realization comes when we feel that our well-being depends upon being well too. One of the most interesting aspects of the way the world has been dealing with the novel coronavirus pandemic is for the most part, the pivot that policymakers who have previously been anti-science tacked back to respecting science around the pandemic. This is the stark reality in an appeal by Dr. Rick Wright , Coronavirus Virus Vaccine Research Chief at the US Health and Human Service (HHS), who has allegedly been removed from his post for objecting to making the available the drug hydroxycholroquine ---- over the counter due to its unproven value in protecting COVID -19 patents — “ I am speaking out because to combat this deadly virus, science — not politics or cronyism — has to lead the way,” he said.
Science trumps Politics
Most compelling and relevant is the view by Paul Arthur Berkman “As a common and apolitical language, in Scientific American in 2018 that “ science brings allies and adversaries together with technology and innovation to address cross-border challenges.” Those borders may can be political, state, cultural, religious, gender, ethnic , or international borders. Pandemics like COVID -19 obliterate them all. The evidence is clear. Viruses know no state or country boundaries, nor abide by any regulations,. The ubiquity of global travel coupled with the fact that one can unknowingly have the virus and be asymptomatic, thereby spreading it to innocent bystanders, family members and friends, adds to its frustrating illusiveness. That’s why science needs to come to the rescue to stop it too, with accurate, verifiable, safe and scalable testing for the virus, the disease, its antibodies and to determine immunity to it, as well as a safe, effective and scalable vaccine. None of which we have yet. What resonates is that Science matters, but Science takes time.
The same need to adhere to scientific evidence applies to approaches to climate Science. The same principles also apply to ensure that climate action is not put in eclipse. How to strengthen resilience? Why a whole of Government approach is necessary to cut emissions and stimulate behavioral changes? What are the elements of a recovery climate plan? How to prioritize protection of biodiversity, promote renewable energy, and afforestation, and prevent soil degradation.
Positive movements since the inaugural World Earth Day 1970
The onset of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic from the novel coronavirus has made more people value science. Flattening the curve has given proof to the fact that when lives are on the line, and as people understand that their daily decisions are connected to the lives of others, people everywhere will act in accordance with the scientific findings. Knowledge of the scientific information will provide the basis for communicating effectively and combating disinformation. When World Earth day was inaugurated in 1970, the configuration of the world economy, diplomacy and international relations were vastly different from they are today. John Kerry, former US Secretary of State, who along with Al Gore, former Vice President was among the pioneers of the 1970 Earth Day movement provided a poignant reflection. According to him, the advocates knew that the solutions on climate were actually good for our economy. But they didn’t have confirmed proof. Today, looking back at the scare tactics and false information by the big polluters were in 1970, science has proven them wrong. His vivid portrait :
“That’s the story of climate change. Progress has been halted by finger-pointing, denial, replacing real science with junk science, misinformation, and flat-out lies, elevating political hacks instead of scientists and experts, refusal to work with allies and even adversaries, and leaving states and cities to fend for themselves. Sound familiar? It’s no coincidence that the same president who called COVID- 19 a “Democratic hoax” referred to climate change as a “hoax from China.” Kerry said in an interview with Our Daily Planet. (April 21, 2020)
But there’s a story of hope in the climate crisis that is the opposite of what is required to stop the spread of COVID-19. Basically there is need to shut down much of the economy to stop this disease. On climate, it is not a choice between economic recovery and climate action. The science is explicit: solving the climate crisis is the engine of our economic future. We end up healthier and create more jobs. As the pandemic upends our world, it reminds us of what really matters is the health and safety of our families and our loved ones, our communities and countries. Climate science teaches us to connect the dots between our health and the health of our planet, and explains how burning fossil fuels and climate change threaten them both.
At the same time, an expected drop in greenhouse gas emissions linked to the global economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has attracted some optimistic prospects. According to Gerhard Adrian, World Meteorological Organization (WMO) Secretary-General in reference to a 5.5 to 5.7 per cent fall in levels of carbon dioxide due to the pandemic, this trend is only “short-term good news". It is predicted that once the global economy begins to recover from the new coronavirus, emissions will return to normal. “There might even be a boost in emissions because some of the industries have been stopped”, he cautioned.
The last 50 years have seen the physical signs of climate change - and their impacts – gathering speed at a dangerous rate. Consequently, The UN Report on Climate Change (September 2019) has warned that unless the world can mitigate climate change, persistent health problems, especially hunger and inability to feed the growing population of the world, and there would be also more massive impact on economics. The report shows that since the first Earth Day in 1970, carbon dioxide levels have gone up 26 per cent, and the world’s average temperature has increased by 0.86 degrees Celsius (33.5 Fahrenheit). The planet is also 1.1C (nearly 34F) warmer than the pre-industrial era and this trend is expected to continue. In addition the last five years were the hottest on record. This warming has been uneven, with Europe seeing the highest change in the last decade (of around +0.5C, or 32.9F) and South America and the Caribbean experiencing the least change. Other key indicators showed an acceleration of climate change in the past five year including ocean heat and acidification, rising sea level (up 112 millimeters since 1970), glacier melt and Arctic and Antarctic sea ice shedding ice loss five times higher in last five years, compared to the 1970s.
Under these circumstances, the future choices revolve around two options. One is a path of global solidarity like we experienced in 2015 with the embrace of the UN 2030 Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris agreement signed by 192-198 countries . The other is to devolve into division, hate and nationalistic authoritarianism. GOFAD is optimistic in its belief that the enormous pain and suffering of responding to COVID-19 will actually increase the chances for Climate Action.
Edward and Auriol Greene Directors, GOFAD.