Updated: Jul 30, 2020
Strict enforcement of lockdown in several countries across the globe has no doubt had a disastrous effect on the global economy. Many lives have been lost to the pandemic and unfortunately the numbers rise each day. People have been working from home and spending more time with family. Reduced human activities in the past few months have, however, given Mother Nature a break to breathe again.
According to an article published on May 19, 2020, in Nature Climate Change, the temporary reduction in daily global carbon dioxide emissions during COVID-19 forced confinement is 17% compared with the mean 2019 levels. The last time emissions were at this level was in 2006! Many environmentalists and nature lovers see this as a silver lining and urge industrialists and world leader to build emission reduction and green energy into stimulus plans as they take steps to lift the lockdown. But does this temporary improvement in environmental conditions establish that we have found a solution to control greenhouse gases emissions? Certainly not! Forcing behavior changes on people is not the way to tackle climate change. People need to move to more sustainable ways of living even after the lockdowns are lifted to revive economy.
Now, let’s rethink if temporary reduction in emissions actually is a silver lining. The atmospheric lifetime of carbon dioxide is several hundreds to thousands of years, making it a notorious greenhouse gas. In other words, even if carbon dioxide emissions are completely stopped, it will continue to warm the atmosphere and the oceans. And this phenomenon is quite obvious. Oceans are the sink for carbon dioxide, absorbing over 30% of the gas released by human activities. This continual channeling of heat to the oceans makes climate crisis a bigger trouble every passing day. It is causing increasing rains and rising sea levels, as a result of which we might expect an above-average number of intense cyclones this year. Cyclones are responsible for ocean-to-air efflux of carbon dioxide. According to a new NOAA study, climate change does not increase the frequency of cyclone; it increases the intensity of cyclones.
Across the globe, people have felt the hits of climate change in rapid succession this year. Starting with wildfires in Australia, water scarcity in South Africa, super cyclone Amphan slamming into eastern states of India as well as Bangladesh, pounding rains breaking two dams in the United States, to the latest- warning that the Atlantic hurricane season could be severe. In terms of natural disasters, the worst may be yet to come.
And of course, locusts! Who knew that climate change would be the reason behind the exacerbated locust infestation in part of Africa and Asia? Heavy rains in late March established favorable breeding conditions for the multiplication of desert locusts in the Horn of Africa. These insects migrate to different places to meet the food demands of the entire swarm, spreading much like a wildfire. Locusts are aggressive feeders and have destroyed vast swaths of farmland.
Perhaps these events are a collective signal for what lies ahead of countries all over the world? Although the impacts of climate change are different for different regions, one thing seems certain. Extreme weather hazards are likely to put specific groups within populations at heightened risks- the farmers and the poor. Reconstruction post COVID-19 must therefore be shaped in a way that reduces our vulnerability and prepares us for extreme climate risks.
1) What a Week’s Disasters Tell Us About Climate and the Pandemic https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/23/climate/climate-change-coronavirus.html
2) Hurricanes and Oceanic Carbon Sequestration: Another Negative Feedback Process to Slow Global Warming http://www.co2science.org/articles/V6/N6/COM.php
3) Climate Crisis Weekly: Carbon emissions dropped 17% globally due to COVID-19 https://electrek.co/2020/05/23/climate-crisis-weekly-carbon-emissions-17-percent-globally-covid-19-hurricanes-sharks/