What the coronavirus will teach about climate change

What the coronavirus will teach about climate change

Coronavirus and climate change. The analysis of the Financial Times


Imagine that you left Earth before the coronavirus and returned this week. This is more or less what happened to a team of 87 people on board the icebreaker Polarstern, who has spent the last six months researching the climate in the Arctic and returned to the mainland a few days ago – writes the FT .

The world that welcomed them is familiar, but it has changed. Smiles have been replaced by masks; people avoid themselves when walking on the street. And while the researchers were at sea, the topic they were studying – climate change and emissions – underwent the biggest change in our lives. With the world in isolation, emissions will see their biggest drop this year since World War II. The 140 million euro project, known as the Mosaic Expedition, is one of the most ambitious polar research programs ever undertaken. Many of their observations show, depressingly, that warming in the Arctic is underway. Climate change hasn't taken a break, although coronavirus has devastated the global economy and, unfortunately, hundreds of thousands of lives. A particular concern is that the expedition has observed very low ozone levels, raising the question of whether this is related to the ozone hole above the Arctic. (Further analysis must be done before we can say for sure.)

Although carbon dioxide emissions have declined considerably during the pandemic, this is only a small piece if measured on a planetary scale. The drop in emissions in 2020 – about 8 percent less than last year – will still lead us on the right path to achieve the Paris agreement's goal of limiting heating to 1.5 degrees centigrade. The Earth's atmosphere has hardly noticed it: carbon dioxide concentrations reached a new record last month. This may sound counterintuitive, but CO2 remains in the atmosphere for a long time – more than a century. As long as we continue to pump it into the air, it will continue to accumulate.

Other data point darkly in the same direction: this year has seen the hottest May ever recorded by modern instrumentation. Meanwhile, Greenland has seen unusually high melting ice levels this spring, suggesting that more ice will come in the summer. So if isolation weren't enough to heal the planet, should we give up hope? It may seem depressing to think that even after all the planes stopped flying and normal life stopped, the warming of the atmosphere continued. Despite the popularity of satellite imagery showing pollution eliminated in a handful of large cities, the state of the planet remains roughly the same.

But there is good news. The pandemic has had a major impact on something that is critical to tackling climate change: our values. Life under the coronavirus has forced everyone to take collective action to protect the health of the other and to realize that it is worth preparing for distant threats. As the Polarstern team adjusts to life on land in the midst of the coronavirus, it may be surprising that the deeper changes brought about by the disease are those that are not immediately visible to the eye. Isolation has been a period of prolonged reflection and has meant that many have given priority to collective security over individual freedom.

It is also the antithesis of the culture of instant gratification that fueled many habits that are not very positive for the environment, such as flying away for a weekend or shopping for fast fashion. Many researchers and climate activists are calmly optimistic about a change in attitude that will bring long-term benefits to the climate. The pandemic was also an opportunity to imagine what our future could be like, given that the future we expected has changed. As for the Polarstern, there is now a new crew and a new team of researchers aboard the icebreaker. The search will continue throughout the summer, until the end of the Mosaic expedition scheduled for next October. And when the last team of researchers returns to earth this fall, what kind of new world will await them? It will likely be a world where coronavirus is not totally under control – and neither is global emissions. But it could be a world where, even as the warming continues, our mentality is at least better prepared to face long-term climate change.

(Excerpt from the international press review by Epr Comunicazione)


This is a machine translation from Italian language of a post published on Start Magazine at the URL https://www.startmag.it/energia/cosa-insegnera-il-coronavirus-al-cambiamento-climatico/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cosa-insegnera-il-coronavirus-al-cambiamento-climatico on Sat, 20 Jun 2020 05:54:01 +0000.