Over the last few years, there’s no doubt that climate change has ruined a lot of things. Natural disasters have become all the more severe with fires raging in Australia, the Amazon and California. Hurricanes have started hurting more and more people. Entire islands are even flooding. There’s no doubt that climate change has altered the course of the Earth. Students have taken to the streets with the movement known as “Fridays for the Future,” advocating for new carbon-reducing bills and sparking a global conversation about climate change. The movement has hit my school, my friends and even me. I’ve now been vegetarian for over a year and stopped purchasing clothing from fast fashion brands.
As I’ve grown more into conservation and found myself admiring Greta Thunberg from afar, I’ve also started following different accounts and hashtags on Instagram and Twitter, for example, #climatechange. While most of the postings under this hashtag are inspiring and informative, there have been a couple of problems. Vegans claim that vegetarians are severely hurting the planet and there is a lot of shame at times for not living life zero waste. But recently, the biggest problem I’ve had with this string of posts is one theme: people saying that coronavirus is healing the Earth.
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The posts typically go one of two ways: they either lay out air pollution maps and remark that quarantine is saving the Earth, or in a more twisted way, they go on to thank the coronavirus for saving our planet. However, both of these posts (though one is obviously more severe than the other) are ridiculous and are extremely unfeasible.
These strings of posts started to form after air pollution graphs in Wuhan started showing a dramatic increase in air quality because everyone was cooped up at home. People marveled at how amazing the decrease in air pollution was. However, this could hardly be considered a solution to climate change. Wuhan’s lockdown was extremely strict: no one could leave their homes and those who tried to were fined and punished. With that level of governmental control, it’s obvious that heavy traffic and manufacturing would cease in the city. If no one is allowed to go anywhere, there aren’t cars to generate heavy smog. This method of “saving the planet” is impossible to maintain. People need to slowly reintegrate back into real life, which includes driving to schools and workplaces. Once work starts up again, many more will flock back into factories and smog will once again fill the air. Trying to propose that cooping everyone at home is the solution to climate change is completely impossible.
As for the second type of post, thanking a virus that’s killing thousands around the world is not an impression that the climate change community should be creating for themselves. Coronavirus has been absolutely tragic for everyone, from ordinary citizens to celebrities. Heart-wrenching stories of doctors who died treating patients and essential workers being forced to work without proper protection are all too common. Seniors in both high school and college have had their graduations postponed, or in some cases even canceled. Thanking a virus that has destroyed our society and taken innocent lives is not a way to further progress on the climate change movement. If anything, it just makes matters worse for everyone.
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People in the northern Indian city of Jalandhar are seeing the Himalayan mountains more than 100 miles away due to the reduction in air pollution caused by the country's coronavirus lockdown. Some say they haven't seen the peaks for decades. India has been in lockdown for more than two weeks, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi ordering "a total ban on venturing out of your homes." The air quality in Jalandhar has been measured as "good" on the country's national index for 16 of the 17 days since the lockdown was announced. By contrast, the same 17-day period last year failed to register a single day of "good" air quality. (📸: Pardeep Pandit/Hindustan Times/Getty Images)
Coronavirus isn’t healing the Earth. However, I think that the climate change community could take one optimistic note from the entire crisis, without thanking it or generating unrealistic ideas. The human characteristic that has come forth during coronavirus is unity.
Over the last few months, doctors have come together from all over the world. Former and retired doctors have left new professions or the comfort of their homes to work on patients from all across the world. Scientists have united in efforts to find a cure. Politicians have come together in meeting rooms to work out stimulus bills. Teachers and districts have had to find ways, in extremely short periods of time, to transition their classrooms online. The unity that has come forth in light of this crisis proves that humanity can come together and face a crisis. Even better, it’s slowly working and humanity is restarting. This powerful joining of forces shows us that if we want to work together, we can fix things.
Instead of taking the virus itself as a healer for the Earth, scientists are proposing that climate change will be taken more seriously following this crisis. Furthermore, many are even saying that governments have proven that they can take charge of a nation in crisis. The quick reaction times of governments around the globe and the swift adaptation that followed shows that we can meet crises swiftly.
Climate change is poised to hurt our society even more than coronavirus already has. The lessons we take from coronavirus can help us in the future, but the virus itself shouldn’t be thanked for “helping.”