How climate change has been affected by COVID-19 and where our role stands in the future.

By Journalism II Student Iris Mark.

I was eight when I first cried on Nature’s behalf. We were at the zoo, and all around me were facts listing how fast the deforestation of rainforests happens. I couldn’t really comprehend it, except for the feelings of hopelessness and guilt that encompassed me. I felt completely overwhelmed by these feelings, so I did the only rational thing an eight-year-old would do: sat and cried. The people around me probably thought I had been denied a stuffed animal, but taking notice of my sadness, my mom sat and comforted me with all the standard reassurances that I’m convinced every parent has stashed away somewhere.

Satisfied, I went to look at the monkeys. 

The point of this anecdote is not to convene the idea that everyone should be so invested in the environment, that they should cry at every sad bit of news. (If that were the case, there would be a lot of sad people.) The point is to spotlight the fact that no matter how I felt that day, my tears didn’t stop those trees from being cut down. Feeling passionately doesn’t automatically mean problems get fixed. It is what you do with those feelings that make the changes. How do your actions reflect your passions? More importantly, are you brave enough to act upon your convictions?

Later I would cry again, but this time for an issue which took every environmental disaster, and wove it into one looming threat born from human creation.

It is called climate change. 

The first half of 2020 showed an unprecedented decline in carbon dioxide emissions: a greenhouse gas that traps heat in the atmosphere when fossil fuels are burned. About 8.8% less carbon dioxide was emitted in the first six months of 2020 than in that same time period in 2019. It was a massive reduction in the ground transportation sector, larger than both the oil crisis of 1979 and WWII. A total 40% of emissions decreased worldwide. These dull figures offer insight into the magnitude of COVID-19’s scope and shows what measures are needed for society to take, in terms of a solution to our planet’s very own virus. 

However, as encouraging as these statistics may seem, this drop in carbon dioxide has minimal effect on the long term overall margin of emissions. It does nothing to throw humanity off the current trajectory that we are barreling down. 

When the world fell at its knees, I thought it would be over within the month. How arrogant and naive that sounds. What will I do—what will we do when things “go back to normal?” Continue as I was, in ignorance, a loyal consumer? At this point, I wonder if the “normal” way of things is even an option. The pandemic has stopped for no man, and neither will climate change. 

Albert Einstein once said, “We shall need a substantially new way of living if humanity is to survive.” Substantial. Not the current way of mass indulgence, substantially, so that we not only can live but survive. The very basic of human need requires us to change the way we live. If anything, the pandemic has only proved this. We cannot continue as we were after this has passed. Yet, I don’t believe that Einstein would waste his words on a lost cause. It is presumptuous of me to assume that society will instantly right itself, for change is hard, but he still said it. He truly believed that humanity can change. I still harbor this notion and hope that the pandemic will act as a wake-up call, so the foretold doom of climate change will not be the sequel in COVID-19’s wake. 

In all these unfortunate truths, we must remember that hope is not lost. There is still much work that needs to be done, but you as an individual can be an agent of change. As we are stuck inside for the foreseeable future, remember to turn off lights whenever you leave a room, don’t be tempted to crank the heat, and turn off the TV. Trade in cars for biking and walking. Your license will still be there if you decide to walk somewhere instead of drive. Most importantly, remain informed. Educate those around you, and encourage them to do the same with others. Even when you feel useless sitting at home, as I often feel, these are little things you can easily do which will make all the difference. 

This year has been a year of staggering dejection, of untold disappointment and of paralyzing fear. 

But it has also been a year of truths. 

A year that will be the source of defiant opposition to the problems we surely face ahead. 

When I can’t sleep, sometimes I will make up speeches in my head. Wondering what I will say one day to impact people’s minds, implementing seeds of change inside each of them. 

Consider this my debut. 

We can no longer wait on the world to change for us. This planet cannot wait. The burden of climate change is for our generation to carry, that much has been established by now, placed there by our elders who have sat placidly in denial for far too long. We have not only stated, but proven, time and time again that our generation is fully equipped to change the world. 

So go out there and do it.