Coronavirus and the Climate Crisis

A couple of months ago, no one could’ve predicted where we are now. As I write this, there are 4,181,300 global cases of COVID-19, 1,367,638 of which are in the United States and 67,259 in India [1].

As a result of community spread infection, lack of widespread testing and/or medical equipment/facilities, many countries and governments have recommended some form of stay-at-home initiative or quarantine in the past two months. This is our new reality.

In mid-March, the majority of my fellowship cohort left their host organizations to return home, be it in the United States or elsewhere in India. I returned home, and I can only imagine how Croc Bank must be right now, void of its constant stream of park visitors. India has been on lockdown since March 24th [2]. My coworkers and friends have been isolated in the park, their only opportunities to leave are limited beach access time and chances to go to the small shop stall across the street. Some staff returned home, not knowing when they’ll be able to return.

In India, tens of thousands of daily-wage migrant workers are left stranded, without transportation, bus and train services suspended [3]. For many, walking is the only option. Not everyone can comfortably shelter at home, or even get home in the first place. The divides between rich and poor become deeply apparent in a crisis like this.

Many populations are considered at-risk for COVID-19. If you don’t have healthcare, disposable income, the ability to take two weeks off work, reliable transportation, proximity to healthcare centers, etc. this pandemic will only heighten these issues. Studies have come out linking air pollution to COVID-19 deaths in the US. Mental health issues such as depression and anxiety are worsened. Access to basic resources becomes more difficult.

Imagine if I told you there was going to be another crisis like this, one that disproportionately affects vulnerable populations. Except in this crisis, we have known about it for decades and done very little to stop it. This crisis is climate change, and we can’t let it disappear.

In terms of manageability and timescale, these two crises are very different. Climate action will require a more nuanced approach, with integration of many more stakeholders. The effects of climate change will be much more varied, with populations affected in vastly different ways. The consequences of climate inaction are difficult to see. That’s why I believe in drawing this parallel between climate change and COVID-19. Even if we cannot see immediate or clear cause and effect from climate change, we can still approach it with the same seriousness as COVID-19.

COVID-19, while unexpected and absolutely devastating, has helped us reflect critically on our current ability to face crisis situations. In the face of adversity, governments have been pushed to their limit. They have been challenged to respond rapidly and effectively at local, national, and international levels. It hasn’t been flawless, but it’s revealed the cracks in the system.

Throughout workplaces, we have seen a rise in collaboration and innovation. In communities, we have seen people come together to support one another. We are more capable than we think of taking immediate action and making widespread changes.

Quarantine and self-isolation means emptier roads and transportation hubs. Coal and oil industrial activities have decreased. Carbon dioxide emissions have also decreased. Air pollution in many cities around the world has gone down.

Back at the Croc Bank, the loud hotels nearby probably don’t have any visitors right now. Our reptiles must be overjoyed with the lack of loudspeakers, firecrackers, and parties.

We need to take this mentality and apply it to the greatest challenge of our generation, climate change. We need effective, responsive governments. Collaboration and innovation for the greater good. Changing habits and mindsets on individual, household, and community levels. Widespread, far-reaching, and unprecedented action. Support for one another. We are in this together.

Stranded people rushing to New Delhi railway station to catch their train during fourth phase of the lockdown
Stranded people rushing to New Delhi railway station to catch their train during fourth phase of the lockdown. Photo: Sumita Roy Dutta / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

Sources:
1. “Coronavirus Cases.” Worlometers.info. https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus. Accessed on May 18, 2020.
2. Gettleman, Jeffrey, and Kai Schultz. “Modi Orders 3-Week Total Lockdown for All 1.3 Billion Indians.” New York Times, March 24, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/24/world/asia/india-coronavirus-lockdown.html. Accessed on May 18, 2020.
3. Pandey, Vikas. “Coronavirus Lockdown: The Indian Migrants Dying to Get Home.” BBC News, May 20, 2020. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-52672764. Accessed on May 20, 2020.

Naomi is serving as an American India Foundation (AIF) Clinton Fellow with the Madras Crocodile Bank Trust (Croc Bank) in Mamallapuram, Tamil Nadu. For her Fellowship project, she is designing educational material and activities for youth and adults to learn about India’s ecosystem and to promote the conservation of endangered species in their natural habitats. Born in Taipei, Taiwan, and raised in Portland, Oregon, Naomi recently graduated with a degree in organismal biology and ecology. While at Colorado College, Naomi worked for the Office of Sustainability, overseeing various green certification programs and serving on the Campus Sustainability Council. She also worked as a lab technician in the GIS (Geographic Information Systems) Lab and as a resident advisor. She completed over 300 service hours through the Community Engaged Scholars program, was a backcountry trip leader for the Outdoor Recreation Committee, and a member of Kappa Alpha Theta. Most recently, Naomi worked as a kayak instructor at Trackers Earth, an outdoor education camp in Portland. Naomi is excited to join the AIF Clinton Fellowship and to immerse herself in the local community and culture through service.

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