• Gerard Donley

Coronavirus & Climate Change

Omen of Complacency


An Omen for Complacency

The global coronavirus crisis is the only topic anyone can concentrate on right now. And that’s probably as it should be. The unfolding tragedy brings the ferocity of nature’s power closer to home than any of us expected. That’s why this terrible wave of illness is a useful omen of what can happen to us if we don’t act more decisively to slow the progress of climate change.

Missed Opportunities to Prepare for Coronavirus

The 1918 influenza pandemic killed at least 50 million people worldwide. In our own time, we’ve seen other deadly viruses spread with terrifying speed; Ebola, Sars, and Mers. Together they killed tens of thousands of people. For years, scientists have been warning of the likelihood that another pandemic was inevitable and that we needed to prepare.

In 1995, Michael Osterholm, the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy said “This is a critical point in our history. Time is running out to prepare for the next pandemic. We must act now with decisiveness and purpose.” In his 2017 book Deadliest Enemy: Our War Against Killer Germs, Olsterholm identified the most threatening infectious diseases facing us today and what we needed to do to prepare for them. He placed preventing a global flu pandemic at the top of the list.

We did not prepare. Now, the United States and much of the world is ordering entire populations into emergency self-isolation and shutting down national economies.

New Climate Change Facts

Climate change is here now. Scientists around the world agree that it threatens our way of life, and we need immediate preventative action.

Let me share some of the most up-to-date facts to illustrate how urgently we need to act.

June 2019 was the hottest June in recorded history.

July 2019 was the single hottest month on record for the globe.

The summer of 2019 was Europe’s hottest summer ever.

2019 was Australia’s driest and hottest year ever recorded.

The data is eye-opening to people who don’t spend a lot of time focusing on global warming. Those of us who live in areas of the country that haven’t suffered a climate-related disaster may put global warming on our “get to it when you can” list. But people living in states already affected by catastrophic events understand yesterday was the time to act.

The 2018 California wildfires killed 103 people, including 6 firefighters, burned 1.9 million acres, and destroyed 19,000 homes and business. That single season’s wildfires caused damages and losses estimated in the hundreds of billions of dollars.

Australia’s recent bushfires killed 34 people, destroyed more than one-fifth of the nation’s forests, and slaughtered an estimated one billion animals. The fires obliterated the habitat so thoroughly that scientists believe it drove some species to extinction.

Climate Change Intensifies Disasters

Wildfires, floods, and hurricanes are not new to the US. What is new is their increased intensity.

We’ve seen many more category 4 and 5 hurricanes in recent years. Although climate change is not causing the hurricanes, one effect of global warming is rising ocean temperatures. Warmer water provides the fuel that feeds hurricanes and encourages the storms’ immense growth and cataclysmic wind speed. 2017’s Hurricane Maria was the worst natural disaster in recorded history to affect Puerto Rico and St. Croix.

Climate change didn’t cause the wildfires in Australia and California either. But global warming caused weather cycles that created the conditions resulting in more uncontrollable fires burning over a much wider area. The Earth’s higher temperature evaporates surface water faster and builds heavier torrential rainstorms. California endured sporadic flooding rains that encouraged vigorous vegetation growth followed by months of record-breaking heat that dried out the plants, creating a massive tinder-box waiting for a spark.

What Can We Do to Stop Climate Change?

What can one person do to slow the progress of climate change?

It’s easy to assume that no individual can produce an impact on the climate. But just like self-isolation and social distancing slows the coronavirus’ spread, one person’s changed behavior can reduce the overall emission of greenhouse gases.

Did you know that electricity production is the second-largest source of global greenhouse gas emissions? That’s because we generate electricity by burning coal, oil, and natural gas. If you monitor your own use of electric power and change habits that waste electricity, you helping.

Do you leave lights on in a room when no one’s in it? Do you keep the TV on in the background even when no one’s watching it? I know; it sounds trivial. But if 128 million households in the US adopted the same energy-conserving practice, the result wouldn't seem so inconsequential.

Renewable Energy Sources Work

Reducing our electricity use can be a challenge, especially with our lives being so driven by electric-powered devices. We have smartphones, smart cars, and even smart homes now. So while we should immediately stop wasting electricity, there’s more we can do.

Clean electricity is here, and it’s cheaper than the carbon-generated power we’ve used for over a century. Renewable energy sources like solar farms, wind turbine fields, and biofuel plants are producing an ever-increasing portion of power. But the clean energy industry is still young, and it needs financial support to achieve the massive power output necessary to wean us off fossil fuels.

Corporations are catching on to the popular movement to support clean energy. They’re proud of their climate consciousness. We should find out whether the companies we do business with are supporting clean energy production. We can all have an impact by directing our consumer dollars to companies that care about the climate. And then there’s the other side of the coin. We should let companies that aren’t doing their part know that we won’t continue to buy their products if they don’t enact climate saving practices now.

Renewable Energy Certificates Help

Can we buy clean electricity?

32 state governments have established mandatory protocols for local and regional power companies requiring them to provide clean electricity to consumers in increasing increments over the next years. We can’t tell when we turn our lights on whether the power came from burning coal or from a wind turbine. The solution was the creation of Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs).

RECs are registered, traceable, and marketable certificates that represent ownership of an amount of renewable energy. The money goes to renewable energy plants to support their growth and to advance the development of clean energy technology. One REC represents 1,000 kWh (kilowatt-hours). Anyone can buy them, and by purchasing a REC you are paying to produce new clean energy. Since the average American household uses about 950 kilowatt-hours per month, one REC would cost about the same as one month’s electric bill.

If it’s too expensive for some of us, we can all encourage our local government to buy RECs when they buy the electricity to power municipal operations. The City of Worcester, Massachusetts, committed to buying RECs equal to 20% of its electricity use and the cost was only one-tenth of one percent of its annual electric bill.

Let’s not let climate change surprise us one day when it’s too late to do anything to prevent it. We’ve learned a hard lesson from coronavirus. We shouldn’t need to learn it twice.