COVID-19 – A Dress Rehearsal For Climate Change

COVID Awareness Sessions

“COVID-19 is not only a wake-up call, it is a dress rehearsal for the world of challenges to come.”, stated UN Secretary-General António Guterres during his address to the UN General Assembly in New York in September 2020.

According to health and biodiversity experts around the world, the current COVID-19 pandemic is deeply connected to the climate crisis and our continued venture into spaces previously occupied by nature to obtain new resources and farmland. In the 2015 report of the Rockefeller Foundation – Lancet Commission on planetary health, scientists observed:

“Health effects from changes to the environment including climatic change, ocean acidification, land degradation, water scarcity, overexploitation of fisheries, and biodiversity loss pose serious challenges to the global health gains of the past several decades and are likely to become increasingly dominant during the second half of this century and beyond. These striking trends are driven by highly inequitable, inefficient, and unsustainable patterns of resource consumption and technological development, together with population growth.”

We have reached a new era: the Anthropocene. An era in which humans shape the surface of our planet and, thereby, the fate of future generations.

UN statistics show that each year we destroy 10 million hectares of forest on our planet, mainly for gaining access to new farmland to feed growing populations worldwide. According to the World Wildlife Fund’s 2020 Living Planet Report, populations of nearly 21,000 species of mammals, fish, birds and amphibians declined by an average of 68 % globally between 1970 and 2016. Burning of fossil fuels and deforestation resulted in increases in the concentration of carbon in the Earth’s atmosphere by 47 % since the beginning of the Industrial Age, and by 11 % since the year 2000, resulting in global warming, changing weather patterns and more frequent extreme events. (Read more about SDG 13,14 and 15 at https://sdgs.un.org/goals)

But what we often seem to ignore is that by destroying our planet, we are also putting us humans at risk. The World Health Organisation estimates that between 2030 and 2050, climate change will kill an additional quarter of million people a year through the spread of infectious diseases, such as malaria and dengue fever. Increasing interactions between animals and humans as we venture into the last truly wild spaces on Earth will facilitate the spread of new strains of diseases, such as COVID-19 and Ebola, and an increasing risk of flooding in a changing climate will likely bring more outbreaks of waterborne diseases like cholera and typhoid.

COVID-19 is a crisis of our own making and, with climate change and resource extraction advancing, there is more to come in the future.

Solomon Islands, Logging
Unregulated logging in Melanesia causes loss of habitat and potentially species, flooding and human rights issues

The good news is: there is hope. The response to the pandemic has shown that people all across the globe have been willing to significantly alter their lives and work in partnership in order to tackle the COVID-19 crisis. Every one of us has an enormous capacity to adapt to new circumstances.

“The environment is God’s gift to everyone. And we have a responsibility towards each other to protect it. We cannot think of ourselves as isolated from others or from creation.”, is the official view of the Church of England on stewardship for the environment.

By taking little steps, all of us can help to create a more sustainable and more equitable world, which our friends in Melanesia and our future generations in this country can strive for.

Here are 8 actions that we can take:

  1. Adjust your diet: Eat smaller or fewer portions of meat, particularly red meat, which has the largest environmental impact, and reduce dairy products or use non-dairy alternatives instead. Try to choose fresh, seasonal produce that is grown locally to help reduce the carbon emissions from transportation, preservation and prolonged refrigeration.
  2. Consume and waste less: Avoid food waste. Try to repair and reuse items and don’t buy more than you need. Consider second-hand options or high quality items, which will last a long time. Give unwanted items a new life by donating them to charity, selling them on or giving them away for free in your neighbourhood. Put your purchasing power to good use by choosing ethical brands.
  3.  Leave the car at home: Walk or cycle as much as possible – and enjoy the exercise and the money saved. For longer journeys, use public transport, or try car sharing schemes. If driving is unavoidable, investigate switching your diesel or petrol car for an electric or hybrid model. 
  4. Cut back on flying:  Choose nearby holiday destinations and take public transport where you can or use car sharing schemes. If you need to fly for work, consider using video conferencing instead. When flying is unavoidable, pay a little extra for carbon offsetting and fly economy – on average, a business class passenger has a carbon footprint which is three times higher than someone’s in economy.
  5. Save energy: Turn off lights and appliances when you don’t need them. Replace light bulbs with LEDs or other low-energy lights. Make simple changes to how you use hot water, like buying a water-efficient shower head. Consider switching energy supply to a green tariff, which is a great way to invest in renewable energy sources – and could save money on bills.
  6. Respect and protect green spaces: If you have your own outdoor space, don’t replace the grass with paving or artificial turf. Plant trees and create your own green space. The Woodland Trust has tools and resources to support you. Help to protect and conserve green spaces like local parks, ponds or community gardens. Organisations like Fields In Trust and the National Federation of Parks and Green Spaces have advice and resources on how you can get involved in areas local to you. 
  7. Invest your money responsibly: Find out where your money goes. Voice your concerns about ethical investment by writing or talking to your bank or pension provider, and ask if you can opt out of funds investing in fossil fuels. You can also investigate ‘ethical banking’.
  8. Make your voice heard by those in power: Tell your Member of Parliament, local councillors and city mayors that you think action on climate change is important. You can also get your local church involved in engaging with your MP about climate change. Hope for the Future can help you with training and resources.

Marie Schlenker

Walande, School Children

Fifth mark of mission – to strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth