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A Brief History of 2020 and a Call To Action On the Environment

by on December 31, 2020

2020 started off on fire. Literally. The bushfires that burned more than 45 acres in Australia were so destructive of wildlife that koalas and other marsupials may never recover as species. The fires were so destructive they garnished world attention, and reminded people of simple facts like that Australia is about three thousand miles from west to east, similar to the United States.

As fires raged across a continent the most deadly, destructive, and disruptive pandemic since the Spanish Flu began to catch people’s attention. By March COVID-19 was in almost every country; most countries responded by closing down, which led to a situation where “essential workers” still worked and traveled and spread the virus.

At the same time the word began to notice the COVID-19 virus Fiji was hit by a Category Five Hurricane, an article in Nature says (they appear to be referring to Tropical Cyclone Harold).

Between the fires in Australia, Category 5 Hurricanes, and COVID-19 the rest of 2020 should have been obvious to everyone; a degree in seeing-the-future not required. Contrary to what we might hope and believe, 2020 was not an accident, an aberration, or a fluke.

By the time we got to the end of summer in 2020 as COVID-19 continued to affect the economy and society of every country, much of the western states in the U.S. were on fire as California experienced its most destructive fire season on record, Oregon and Washington – also with the most destructive fire season on record – lost entire communities. At the same time, the Amazonian rainforest was on fireoften set by humans – and would remain so for months; in Africa Sudan experienced flooding that displaced 150,000 people; southern France was flooding, and in the U.S. the Gulf States were suffering a hurricane season never seen on record for intensity or frequency. Not long after this, Korea was hit by two cyclones (hurricanes) within a week. Many of the storms that led to hurricanes and the requisite flooding were labeled “unprecedented” or “unheard of”.

A fire destroyed 80% of Malden, Washington, the Whitman County Sheriff's Office, which posted this photo, reported.
The aftermath of the Malden, WA, fire
Home submerged by water
Flooding in Sudan

All the storms, as well as the drought that leads to fire conditions, are based on weather patterns. All the storms have been made stronger by climate change. In fact, it’s believed that COVID-19 and other pandemics will increase in frequency, and perhaps in potency, as climate change increases. One of the few advantages that COVID-19 has provided us as a global society is that the pandemic forced people to travel less. This has created less pollution with less vehicles on the road and allowed animals to return to their natural habitat without being disturbed by humans.

Bill Gates suggests that as bad as COVID is in terms of death, disruption to the economy, and it’s global effect, climate change will actually be much worse. One of the best known billionaires in the world, Gates said in August that in real terms, because of COVID, “we will release the equivalent of around 47 billion tons of carbon [into the atmosphere], instead of 51 billion. That’s a meaningful reduction, and we would be in great shape if we could continue that rate of decrease every year. Unfortunately, we can’t.” What’s remarkable, he says, “is not how much emissions will go down because of the pandemic, but how little.” Brilliant with numbers, Gates compares climate change to COVID:

As of last week [in August], more than 600,000 people are known to have died from COVID-19 worldwide. On an annualized basis, that is a death rate of 14 per 100,000 people.

How does that compare to climate change? Within the next 40 years, increases in global temperatures are projected to raise global mortality rates by the same amount—14 deaths per 100,000. By the end of the century, if emissions growth stays high, climate change could be responsible for 73 extra deaths per 100,000 people. In a lower emissions scenario, the death rate drops to 10 per 100,000.

In other words, by 2060, climate change could be just as deadly as COVID-19, and by 2100 it could be five times as deadly.

Gates refers to the end of the century what would happen if emission growth stays high. The reality is that 2020 is projected to be the coolest year (it was hot this year) in the next hundred years, even if we reached net zero carbon use in the next fifteen years. Economically, Gates says, regardless of which model you use, “in the next decade or two, the economic damage caused by climate change will likely be as bad as having a COVID-sized pandemic every ten years. And by the end of the century, it will be much worse if the world remains on its current emissions path.” This article extends beyond Gates’ thoughts, but I would suggest you read his article, which has real suggestions and solutions to mitigating climate change and avoiding climate and economic disaster.

Climate change also has has a great effect on human migration and displacement. Tens of thousands of people were displaced by fire (happening as late as December, in California), hurricanes in the Gulf States, cyclones in Korea and Japan, and flooding in Kenya. Climate change, driven by the emissions of carbon by developed countries, has a disproportionate effect on on poor people, both in “undeveloped” countries and the poor people in developed countries. It’s likely that climate change will alter the cropland of the United States; it’s also well-known that climate change is causing sea rises and will cause frequent flooding for the hundreds of millions of people who live near the coast, or a river.

Contrary to what we might hope and believe, 2020 was not an accident, an aberration, or a fluke. COVID-19 will continue next year, pandemics will increase, the fires and floods that were unprecedented this year will continue to become stronger due to climate change. 2020 has been a hard year for many people with society, and the economy, completely altered by the ongoing pandemic.

The advantage that the pandemic has provided us as, locally and globally, is that we have an opportunity to build a society that is interested in mitigating man-made climate change and thereby preventing the next pandemic, and economic shut-down. We have an opportunity to rethink how we want to live and what we must work if we want to survive as a society.

The solutions exist. The climate crisis does not need to be solved. The lesson is that if we do nothing to prevent climate change, nothing will change and 2020 will be the new normal.

From → Environment

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