A brief chat

happening in an environmental humanities seminar at the University of Zurich, Switzerland, on April 8, 2020, Part I:

Marcus Hall, University of Zurich

“What’s this pandemic got to do with climate change?”

Marcus: Could a warming climate create new conditions for disease vectors and disease transmission? Most certainly, ‘yes’. But an even bigger issue may be that, finally, all of the daily warnings about future disasters, and future changes stemming from human pressures to the climate, will be taken more seriously. After Corona comes, and hopefully goes, it seems likely that people will become much more sensitive to warnings about the effects of future disasters, climate change included. The positive result of Covid-19 should be that we all start travelling less and Zooming more!

Davide: Recent satellite images have shown that countrywide lockdowns are extremely effective in reducing air pollution. Simultaneously our society is still functioning in some way, although not perfectly. Therefore, this pandemic could be useful to come up with alternative ways to conduct our daily activities, which reduce the need to travel and the related emissions. Politicians acted rather quickly in order to stop the spreading of the pandemic among the population. This means that when a threat is imminent politics can work rapidly, so isn’t climate change deemed as a dangerous threat?

Mirko: Both the pandemic and climate change are global issues. In a very small way, ecosystems are being able to recover due to the halt on much industry. I believe such positive changes present us with an opportunity to identify with new ways to mitigate climate change since people are now reducing their the carbon footprint. Our homes can indeed become our offices!

Reto: Coronavirus overtook climate change as a media phenomenon – climate change got kicked off the headlines. Huge sums are now being spent on Corona which will leave less funding for the “fight” against climate change. Out of the news, out of the budget. That was an easy win for big companies.

Nora: The Coronavirus was transferred from an animal to humans. This has happened before. The virus can mutate in the animals cells and be transferred to humans. This is only possible because the number of animal species is decreasing and their habitat is getting smaller because our cities are growing and we are mainly destroying habitats, e.g., through deforestation of the rainforest.

Stefan: The Virus has refocused society away from the usual worries. Its lethality, and associated worries has become a knock on the head society needed to refocus on what’s really important: our continued and future wellbeing. All this will contrast with the rapid downturn of the economy. There will be a return of non-monetary values in our political and social decision-making. In the end, this won’t lead to a collapse, and people will begin to question if all the worrying and concern for a growing healthy economy was really necessary. Smog, cars, flights, excessive mass-consumerism have now all mostly stopped. Lots of people are discovering the wonders of home-office, realizing how unnecessary an 8-hour work day, compared to what can be accomplished in six hours. All these changes will help the adaptation of our society toward climate change.

Lara: This pandemic shows that the world can act if it only wants to do so. During this Corona crisis it becomes clear that when things get really serious, the destructive power that resides in populism can rise to the surface. Maybe this crisis paves the way for a better future as people will better listen to scientists such as virologists (as these are the true stars now). Maybe this will lead the world to listen to the climate scientists and act accordingly because much of the knowledge is already there.

Tobias: Factors like air pollution are now much less dangerous, such as lower levels of nitrogen dioxide/ CO2 & ground ozone concentration. But these positive outcomes only seem to be for a short period of time, as the air will go back to preconditions when economy and mass transportation go back to the daily routine.