A one degree Celsius rise in body temperature could hospitalise a human. A temperature rise of two, three or four degrees could be deadly. Imagine if this were happening to your relative; if someone you were close to was in hospital with a rapidly rising temperature, you would be panicking. You’d want to do all you could to save them, wouldn’t you?
Our planet is currently sick with a temperature, with a condition that is worsening rapidly. If the Earth’s temperature rises by three or four degrees, the consequences will be catastrophic for humankind. We could face mass species extinction, intense weather events, and sea level rise that would displace millions of people. But the sad and scary thing is that this isn’t giving rise to the same level of panic we’d feel if the same were happening to a sick relative. Globally, we are not treating the climate emergency like the existential threat it is. And instead of taking timely and tangible measures to combat it, we are waiting until we hit crisis point before responding.
Lockdown has shown us globally how clear the impact we are having on the climate is. In a matter of weeks of restricted human activities there have been significant drops in air pollution in some of the most congested cities around the world, due to large falls in air and land traffic (such as in Delhi, where the smog has disappeared altogether). For the first time since 1882 (when the first coal power plant was connected), the UK went a full month without coal-powered electricity.
Consequently, carbon emissions this year are set to fall by 4-8%, which is up to ten times larger than the last recession. But to keep global temperature rise to the 1.5 Celsius limit necessary to prevent more extreme consequences of climate change, scientists say that this fall in carbon emissions would need to be repeated every year until 2050 when net-zero carbon emissions are reached. Clearly, this cannot be achieved through a global lockdown for years into the future – it would be unsustainable. Instead, we need to focus our efforts more on changing policy to combat climate change more urgently, rapidly invest in green solutions, and take tangible measures to reduce carbon emissions globally. And, as individuals, we need to collectively make changes to our lifestyles and habits. We need to exploit the rare opportunity of a clean ‘green’ slate presented by lockdown and the fall-out of the coronavirus crisis to do this.
And here’s why; climate change is an existential threat to us humans. It could put an end to humanity itself. So we need to hit the brakes, and urgently, if we are to avoid reaching an irreversible tipping point. Governments need to invest in the green infrastructure required to lessen carbon emissions; there needs to be a more wide-scale adoption of meat-free diets; and the companies responsible for huge amounts of waste and emissions every year need to be taxed accordingly or made to meet stricter green targets.
We cannot afford to waste the opportunity given to us and put essential global climate action off until a future date. That is the equivalent of putting the Earth in a hospital bed in the ICU and waiting until it gets to critical condition, death’s door, before finally saying “shall we try a treatment?”.
Now more than ever we need to take action to give our ailing planet life-support. When lockdown is lifted, we cannot afford to go back to the consumerist lives we led before – lives that lead to poor air quality, the choking of the planet in plastic pollution, and habitat loss and species extinction. The coronavirus pandemic has encouraged all citizens in the world to stop and think… to work collectively in ways they have not before, and come together towards a shared goal. It is imperative that we all use this to start anew and take urgent global action to combat climate change… for the sake of our future on Earth.