Climate pandemic, and its COVID-19 foreshadowing


With ice caps melting, sea levels rising and extreme weather patterns increasing, it is obvious that the world also has failed at combating climate change.

The world’s failure to meaningfully address climate change foreshadowed its failure to handle the COVID-19 virus. With COVID-19’s global death toll surpassing 1 million people, it is obvious that the world has failed at containing the virus. If the world had worked to meaningfully address climate change, we would have been better equipped to handle COVID-19.

The climate crisis has been a global problem that we have been aware of for the past 55 years. On Nov. 5, 1965, climate scientists first warned President Lyndon Johnson about global warming. In 1965, with adequate and timely solutions, climate change could have been effectively combatted.

Now it’s 2020, and humanity has inflicted irreparable damage on the world. Current “solutions” no longer have the capacity to solve or stop climate change. They can only hope to lessen the grave damages that climate scientists have forecasted.

In 1965, the world failed to recognize the magnitude and urgency of the climate crisis. In 2020, the world has failed to coordinate a timely response to COVID-19.

President Donald Trump admitted to knowing the deadly nature of COVID-19 last February, and purposefully downplayed the seriousness of the virus. Similarly to climate change, only once the consequences of COVID-19 became visible and widespread did the virus receive serious consideration.

COVID-19 had to escalate in order for it to get the national attention necessary to warrant serious governmental action.

By definition, a pandemic is a global issue, and the world is facing two pandemics: The coronavirus and climate change. As global issues, COVID-19 and climate change require international cooperation.

COVID-19 has illuminated the failures of international organizations to effectively institute and enforce policies. Specifically, states have refused to follow the guidelines put forth by the World Health Organization, choosing instead to follow their own paths.

This is not the first time that international cooperation has failed us. The failure of the World Health Organization resembles the failures of the Kyoto protocol and the Paris climate agreement to foster international cooperation. Nations are beholden to their own interests, which primarily include economic and physical security.

With people viewing climate change as a distance issue, they tend to not demand immediate government action. Addressing climate change requires significant economic and social restructuring. The great costs of climate reform dissuade nations from pursuing such policies: Economics and the interests of international corporations are put before the environment.

As such, international organizations are crucial for holding nations accountable, but without the power to enforce climate reform on the national level, they are failing to meaningfully combat climate change. If the world had established effective international organizations to combat climate change, then the structures and precedent would have been set to address COVID-19.

The failure of individuals to take climate change seriously foretold the phenomenon of people refusing to wear masks, citing individual rights. Although climate change cannot be defeated without serious institutional and governmental reform, changes to one’s daily routine are still important. Simple alterations such as not using plastic straws, recycling, consuming fewer single-use plastics, and taking shorter showers can have an impact.

Some Americans view mandatory masks as infringing on their personal liberties. However, in order to be an American citizen, one gives up certain freedoms: Wearing a mask is a sacrifice that one makes to keep others in the union safe.

As a young and healthy individual, I wear my mask more to protect others than myself. I do so, hoping that others will wear their masks to protect my grandparents and those I love who are at risk. Wearing a mask is a personal sacrifice for the greater good.

The climate crisis and COVID-19 pandemic have illuminated the importance of protecting the rights of communities to be safe from individual actions. Guaranteeing this protection requires societies to accurately value the greater good.

It is obvious the world has failed. Our prioritization of the greater good must start now. Now, we must learn to implement solutions, cooperate, and value the greater good.

The author is a sophomore at Georgetown University, and wrote this column as part of an ethics for climate change course.

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Alexandra Baird,