In March 2020, Europe was two degrees warmer than the 1981-2010 average, and some regions in Russia were up to 8 degrees higher than the average. At the same time, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the partial lockdowns have led to a decrease in air pollution in urban areas. Probably, this will not have a long term significance as economic activity resumes. Cleaner air will certainly be good for those suffering from pneumonia. Local benefits may be experienced, but not at the global level where cumulative effects cannot be reversed in a short time. A real danger is that health costs and the economic crisis will lead to a reduction of the investments necessary to curtail the burning of fossil fuels and the release of pollutants, that are a major cause of climate change. Nevertheless, a challenging problem may also embody an opportunity. An opportunity, in this case, to accelerate the inescapable transition to a sustainable society.
Some positive lessons have to be learned. For instance, it is possible for many to take advantage of available computational and communication tools and thus minimize the daily commuting needs of a considerable number of working people. Also, scientific researchers may have an additional opportunity to exert their founded and responsible influence on governmental institutions. This is of major relevance as political decisions are mainly dominated by economic considerations while those related to disasters either of biological or environmental nature are currently undervalued. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that correct political decision making must be founded on reliable scientific advice.
It is estimated that a one degree Celsius increase in the average temperature of the atmosphere (actually inducing a larger one at the surface of land masses) will make the land uninhabitable for one thousand million human beings. People in Indonesia, the Indian subcontinent, Central Africa and large swaths of land in the Americas, would be forced to migrate to less equatorial zones. So, the risks of belated action may be envisaged by thinking of the consequences of the COVID‑19 pandemic, seriously aggravated by delayed lockdown measures.
The tremendous impact of a single virus, the one responsible for the COVID-19 disease with its rapid spreading over the whole world in a brief time span, will have a mind-boggling effect on everyone. Indeed, we are witnessing a huge effort of the world scientific community, whose contribution is essential to hopefully succeed in controlling the disease. However, the race for profit by multinational corporations and the selfishness of rich countries in the face of this pandemic are obstacles to international cooperation and justice and weaken the whole of humanity in its fight against the virus.
The same bewildering observations can be made about climate change. But we must be aware of the fact that climate change once established cannot be reversed: it is not a question of one virus, but an illness of the entire biosphere. The slowly advancing climate change has and will have severe worldwide destructive effects. The role of science and technology is indispensable to find ways to reduce the destructive human impacts on nature engaging the responsibility of the entire human community, and in the first place that of the richest and most powerful nation states. In this case science and technology are powerless to avoid some incoming consequences, that cannot be reversed, just as one cannot stop a storm or an earthquake.
The World Federation of Scientific Workers engages all professional associations, political parties, worker’s unions and NGOs to challenge policy-makers and urgently get involved in promoting and developing initiatives aiming at the transformation of every human activity in a path towards sustainability, as the only way to continue enjoying life on Earth.
See the general position of the WFSW on climate change in the Dakar Appeal.
Sign the Change.org petition SAVE THE PLANET BEFORE IT IS TOO LATE!
See the WFSW statement Coronavirus pandemic in developing countries