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  • Writer's pictureNellooli Rajasekharan

ACT NOW OR SWIM LATER. To the climate change sceptics.

In 2013, Sir Mark Walpole, the chief science advisor to the UK, raised the concern that many people are increasingly sceptical about even the existence of climate change and mankind's role in it. Although intensive scientific work has established climate change as a dangerous threat to us, many people continue to deny it. IPCC, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, maintains that global warming is a significant threat.

Climate change is not new. According to NASA, in the last 650,000 years, there have been seven cycles of glacial advance and retreat. The abrupt end of the last ice age about 12,000 years ago marked the beginning of the modern climate era and human civilisation. These climate changes were due to minor variations in the earth's orbit that changed the amount of solar energy received.

But, the current trend is different. Since the mid-20th century, it has been snowballing, driven by human activity. Caused by increased greenhouse gas emissions, the earth's average surface temperature has risen by almost 1 degree Celsius since the late 19th century. Most of that happened in the past 35 years.

Today's sceptics include influential business leaders and politicians who deny global warming. We can discuss, argue, fight, and vote on many issues. But this is not one of them. Only truth and facts matter. Opinions and arguments are good for business, politics, and financial gains, but such special interests will not change the reality. 

The latest disruption

A non-linear change has been forced on us by the COVID-19 virus. With millions of people not driving around for weeks, emissions have fallen. However, some surprising and counter-intuitive factors surface when we deep dive into how COVID-19 influences climate. Based on those, I will focus on what it could mean and what we could do to build a new world friendlier to the environment.  

Four sets of actions are fundamental to building a new world.

1. Urban Living

Many aspects of urban living have been challenged and broken. All the following changes will be easier on the environment.

Most of our business travel was just legacy and added little value. That opens up many alternatives. With current technology, everything from food and medicines to entertainment can be delivered to homes. Most financial transactions do not require travel. Many organisations were forced to let people work from home. They have now seen the advantages. So many will not maintain large offices and incur a considerable waste of time and costs in daily commutation. I have recently taken up a consultancy that is now entirely online. In the past, it would have involved at least two trips halfway around the world.

The residential/commercial space design will have new opportunities to support employers and staff to work from home and eliminate commuting to work. Reduction in commuting will hurt the automobile industry and public transport systems. The change in technology to electric vehicles will supplement this trend.


The demand for high bandwidth connections for the last mile will soar, making even more products and services go online.  Staff performance assessment and reward strategies will shift from time-based to output-based systems. This will lead to more efficiency and effectiveness and less waste of resources.


2. Impact of climate-related issues on health

Dr. Diarmid Campbell-Lendrum, Head of the Climate Change and Health Program at the World Health Organization, said that air pollution "is one of the severest problems we face worldwide presently. About 90% of people inhale polluted air, killing 7 million globally. Air pollution is a contributing risk factor for many other illnesses, such as heart disease, respiratory infection, etc. While not yet conclusive, evidence is emerging that people living in areas with higher air pollution are more likely to be infected with the COVID-19 virus.

Extreme weather events are getting more severe with heatwaves, depressions, cyclones, wildfires, earthquakes, tsunamis, and floods. Climate change worsens these extreme weather events and severely impacts human well-being. Based on data from the European Space Agency's Copernicus satellite, the NASA Earth Observatory images show that nitrogen dioxide emissions dramatically reduced over central China as the coronavirus outbreak brought cities to a standstill. Air pollution in the northeastern United States dropped by 30 % in March. When we come out of the pandemic, the challenge will be retaining some of our gains.

Industrial production processes need to reduce their polluting aspect to retain the accidental benefits caused by COVID. A few months back, it was impossible to think of an overnight closedown of all polluting industries. We had to. And with that came the new revelation that skies can clear and the air can get cleaner rapidly. Nature, the healer, gets to work at an incredible pace. According to estimates by the International Energy Agency, 2.6 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions, about 8% of the estimated total for the year, will never be released into the atmosphere.

3. Links with communicable diseases

Over the past few decades, 70 per cent of the world's infectious diseases have come from the natural environment, with many by animal-to-human transmission. The damage we inflict on the natural world will cause more such diseases to emerge. While damaging and over-exploiting the environment, we ignore their impact on infections in animals and humans. We are causing some of these and exposing ourselves to new risks. Global warming makes the transmission of diseases easier. Overall, environmental damage increases the risks of pandemics.

So, we need to get out of this crisis in a direction very different from the one we went in with. Health and hygiene will need to be strengthened through a lot more awareness building and practices.

4. Changes in our diet

In 2019, the United Nations published a report confirming that plant-based diets are better for the environment. Cattle produce large amounts of the greenhouse gas, Methane.

Eating large amounts of meat regularly is not healthy for humans. Shifting to a primarily plant-based diet can improve our health and the environment. As Hippocrates said, our food is our medicine. So, this diet change will make us much less dependent on medication. 

These four directional changes, even in small steps by millions of us, will make the world a much better place for our grandchildren.

As custodians of this beautiful world, we owe it to them.


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