What Connects Climate Change and COVID-19?

May was filled with so many inspiring national and international events around sustainability, climate change, and solutions on how to restore our planet by contributing to the 1.5-degree challenge. 

One outstanding question in all of these events was: What are the similarities between the pandemics and climate risks? They both:

  • Are fear-ridden
  • Have unpredictable outcomes
  • Are risk multipliers
  • Are not really “black swans”, as experts have consistently warned against both over the years
  • Have profound socio-economics impacts
  • Are regressive; the most vulnerable populations are disproportionately impacted

Why are these two big crises so similar, and is there a way we can address these crises simultaneously?

The connection between a pandemic and climate change ties back to the concepts of Planetary Health. In fact, it is more than just climate change that would endanger human health–it is the degradation of Earth’s system as a whole. 

So, what is Planetary Health? In essence, it appreciates that human health and the health of the planet are inextricably linked. If our civilization wants to thrive, we need good human health, flourishing natural systems, and wise use of natural resources. If our natural systems are degraded, both our health and our planet’s health would be in jeopardy

How is the degradation of Earth’s systems potentially related to pandemics, or epidemics, through the lens of Planetary Health? With rising temperatures, globalization, rapid population growth, and more, it is more likely that infectious diseases spread. In short, if our planet’s systems become less resilient, then it is our health that suffers. 

Why did our planet’s systems become less resilient in the first place? Many argue we are in an Anthropocene, which means human actions are creating significant impacts that change the Earth’s climate and ecosystems.

To “right our wrongs”, we need to put Planetary Health at the forefront of everything we do: planning cities, building our healthcare systems, developing school curricula, proposing and implementing policies…you name it. We need to create new systems, or “retrofit” existing systems, to honour the connections between human health and our planet’s health. We need bolder actions.

While we are creating more holistic and regenerative systems, we cannot ignore the fact that our systems are inherently inequitable, which is why we still see (relative) poverty and other social inequities to this day. In Hong Kong, we have seen low-income households struggling to buy PPEs during COVID-19. As well, some groups are disproportionately affected by COVID-19. For example, women are more adversely affected by the pandemic and pandemic-related policies like school closures, because women are primarily the caretakers of their dependents

Our policies therefore also need to prioritize low-income households, women, and other vulnerable populations. Policies cannot just be band-aid solutions; they have to be transformative and aim to resolve systemic inequities that predispose certain groups to crises like COVID-19. 

COVID-19 and climate change are only symptoms of existing inequities and harms caused by human actions. To ensure a regenerative and sustainable future, we need to respect the planet and create more equitable systems.  

Below are some more interesting reads related to impacts COVID-19 and our planet’s health:

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