Climate change and the Coronavirus are two very different global problems that require immediate attention but actions to safeguard human health and the health of the plant could have something in common. Sophie Mackay, a doctoral researcher, and lecturer at London South Bank University, reflects on the interrelationship between Covid 19 and climate change.
In the final weeks of 2021 two global crises have dominated the UK airways - the global climate crisis discussed at the COP 26 Conference in Glasgow and the emergence of the Omicron Covid 19 variant in early December. Obviously, Coronavirus and climate change are very different global problems which require different timescales for how they are addressed. Covid 19 resulted in immediate governmental action (such as lockdowns and travel restrictions) to limit the spread of the virus to protect human life. The outcomes from COP 26 are less specific, such as a follow up meeting in 2022 ‘As part of the Glasgow Climate Pact, all agreed to revisit and strengthen their current emissions targets to 2030 in 2022.’
So, the conclusion of COP 26 seems to be to have another meeting to discuss targets and focuses on medium term time scales. The necessary immediate action to combat the pandemic is an indication of an anthropocentric world view which centres on the preservation of human health. However, the climate emergency is already endangering human life and livelihoods across the world. In 2021 there were extreme weather events across the world, associated with climate change such as wildfires in Canada and Greece, hurricane Ida the US, flooding in Germany, cyclones in Fiji, typhoons in the Philippines, and storms Christoph and Arwen in the UK. In August 2021 the International Panel on Climate Change reported that:
‘It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land. Widespread and rapid changes in the atmosphere, ocean, cryosphere and biosphere have occurred.’ IPCC August 2021
The global focus fighting the pandemic, in the immediate term, seems to eclipse immediate action to combat climate change. The focus on human needs is an indication the problematic nature of an anthropocentric world view and highlights the human/nature divide where humans are seen as separate from rather than apart of nature. There needs to be more focus on highlighted the interconnectedness of people and planet. The development of the vaccines against Covid 19 is brilliant but they do foreground human exceptionalism and could potentially lull us into a false sense of being able to control nature. Unfortunately, it is unlikely that will be able to innovate our way out of irreversible climate change as the IPCC say:
In fact, one of the interesting things about the of the Covid 19 pandemic (particularly the first lockdown in Spring 2020) is how it initially foregrounded appreciation of nature and the human need for it. In April 2020 the RSPB reported that nature became more important to people in Lockdown and in March 2020 an article in the journal Nature confirmed at the reduction in human activity was a boon for geologists as they were better able to detect seismic waves that predict earthquakes – quite literally make humans more in touch with the movements of the earth. Buscher and Fletcher (2020) explain that one of the common critiques of approaches mainstream conservation is that they rest on a distinction between humans and nature. So one of the ways of taking more immediate action on climate change is to highlight the interconnection of humans and nature more explicitly.
I suggest that if similar messaging were used to encourage people to protect the natural world to limit climate change along the lines of ‘Stay Home, Protect the NHS, Save Lives’ the aspirational targets to reduce global warming set out at Cop 26 might seem more achievable and also engage people at a personal level. There is evidence from an Ipsos Mori poll in August 2021 that the majority of Britons support more stringent actions to combat the climate crisis. More positive messaging about person centred changes that individuals can do immediately to help address the climate crisis would be a good start.
My own research towards a Professional Doctorate in Education at London South Bank University (lsbu.ac.uk) focuses on analysing the language that parents use to talk about nature and how references to the future and inter-generational environmental justice are articulated in their discourse.
Buscher, B. and Fletcher R. (2020) The Conservation Revolution, Verso, London
COP26 - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)