Coronavirus and climate change are related

Citadels environment

Coronavirus and climate change are related. That was my main take-away from an article in today’s Bloomberg Green entitled Coronavirus is a stress test for future climate shocks.

“Risk modelers are looking at the global response to Covid-19 as a test case for how climate shocks could roil markets and push governments to respond to existential threats.

“But the current crisis highlights something risk modelers do want to spend more time on: the social consequences of climate change. 

“The outbreak could compound other environmental crises, too, should floods, wildfires or hurricanes hit in the coming months.”

It’s cyclical: a viral outbreak compounds environmental crises, and environmental crises will always compound epidemics. This was addressed in another article from Bloomberg Green a few days ago, stating that coronavirus combined with climate change could stretch FEMA past its limits.

“Kendra [James Kendra, who directs the Disaster Research Center at the University of Delaware] did wonder if FEMA could possibly handle both a once-in-a-lifetime public health crisis and the upcoming spring flood season. The National Weather Service warned this week that flooding could affect 128 million Americans this year.”

“’FEMA is stretched,” he said. “All the other hazards we have in the U.S. will not go away and will only complicate the task of responding to the coronavirus.’”

“Even before the novel coronavirus reached the U.S., this year was already shaping up to be exceptionally challenging for FEMA. Relentless rains across the Southeast in February caused near-record flooding from Jackson, Mississippi to Birmingham, Alabama. In early March, roughly 10 tornadoes touched down in Tennessee, leaving at least 25 dead.”

What this really means is that we’d better get our collective act in gear with regard to climate change. Our world seems to be falling apart around us, with more and more people becoming homeless, more people suffering from “natural disasters” (like the “upcoming spring flood season”) on a regular basis, and chronic illnesses on the rise, along with the first global pandemic in several generations. Our communities are fragile, the opposite of stable and resilient.

These things are interrelated. One of the most crucial connections is land use patterns: we (U.S. society) have spent billions of dollars over the past ~70 years building infrastructure that can be used only, or primarily, by the car. This Ponzi scheme has affected all other aspects of our lives: in addition to the enormous collective impact of automobiles on the climate, the system has also made us lonely, fat, and broke, as we spend our time and money on gas, cars and traffic instead of good food, outdoor exercise, and time with friends and family. It has also put high-quality fresh food out of reach of many, as urban/suburban sprawl pushes farmland farther from every urban center.

Comorbidity has been a significant factor in mortality rates from coronavirus. In other words, people who already suffer from another health problem are more likely to succumb to the virus. This includes, for example, people who lack nourishing food and those frequently subjected to poor air quality. Even high stress levels negatively impact our health.

And yet, so much of this is entirely preventable. We need new, regenerative places: places that support our health, our pocketbooks, our communities, and our planet. Re-thinking our land use patterns and our agricultural systems will rebuild public health and help the climate simultaneously.

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