Coronavirus Pandemic, Global Warming and the Striking Similarity in Misdirection

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The novel Coronavirus originated in the Wuhan conurbation of China, sometime towards the end of 2019. The initial reports of this “unusual” pneumonia causing flu were suppressed by the People’s Republic of China. The World Health Organisation also did not take this virus seriously and wasted three months before it declared the novel Coronavirus a global pandemic.

The delayed response by the WHO helped the novel Coronavirus spread much faster to Europe, America and the rest of the world. WHO is now calling the the novel Coronavirus, that originated from Wuhan, as COVID-19 (Coronavirus Disease 2019). The response to the novel Coronavirus crisis is not unparalleled and is actually very similar to our response to the global warming crisis. The difference lies only in the time frame.

Let us try to draw the parallels between novel Coronavirus and global warming in the hope of influencing course correction for saving our civilization.

Accepting the Crisis

We have known about the relationship between increasing greenhouse gas concentration in our atmosphere and rising temperature since the beginning of the 20th century. As in the case of the novel Coronavirus, the information about global warming and its effects had been largely suppressed by vested interests. Global warming trend was first reported in the 1930s and by 1968, research had begun suggesting the possibility of the Antarctica ice sheet collapsing under its effect. Further research as well as freak weather events since then established without doubt the impact of burning of fossil fuels on the atmosphere.

However, under the influence of vested interests, the global community continued to look the other way. The role of fossil fuel burning in the unnatural ever-increasing concentration of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases was questioned at every platform. The vested interests also did not shy away from funding opposing research which kept projecting global warming, and the contribution of fossil fuel in causing this warming as a misguided theory, and not a scientific fact. They did this until they could, and until the impacts of global warming became so apparent that it could not longer be denied. This is exactly what happened in case of the novel Coronavirus pandemic.

The novel Coronavirus pandemic was denied by the global community, represented in this case by the WHO, till it became so apparent that it could no longer be denied. There were also reports indicating the demonizing of the doctors, health care workers and journalists in China who first called out the devastating impacts of this virus. Dr. Li Wenliang, the doctor who first released the report of the novel Coronavirus outbreak was reported to by silenced by the Chinese authorities, till he could no longer speak. Now, less than six months later, novel Coronavirus has infected over a million people and killed several thousands around the world.

Naming the Crisis

An important factor in addressing a global problem is that people from all nations and continents should be able to relate to it. How we “name” the problem and the clarity of our messaging related to its causes, impacts and solutions plays a critical role in solving that problem. However, no sooner did it become clear to the vested interests that global warming can no longer be denied, it was rechristened climate change. All of a sudden, not only did global warming become real, but we were told that its impacts are being felt in the form a larger and more holistic term, climate change. 

This did two things. One, it allowed for certain groups to introduce — with greater vigour — their research of aspects such as global cooling, role that aerosols can play in combating global warming, etc. This clearly fell in the realm of climate change as did the understand that burning of fossil fuel was mainly shifting seasons a little to the left, or right. This was of much help to the vested interests in further the confusion around the impact of burning fossil fuels on the atmosphere.

A second impact of our transition from global warming to climate change was the further and more stronger deviation of messaging and focus away from fossil fuel. The utterance of the phrase global warming directly connects us to the root of the problem. That the atmosphere of the planet is heating up and this is happening as a direct consequence of removing “fossil fuel” from the Earth’s crust and burning it up. The “fossil fuel” is nothing but stored carbon and its burning releases the stored greenhouse gas and results in the warming of our planet’s atmosphere.

The use of the term climate change generalises the problem and is able to dilute the direct action that would have otherwise been necessary for preventing the burning of fossil fuels. Climate change is also said to be natural, albeit over millions of years. However, the first part of the last sentence is enough for the vested interests to spread the message to the masses that it is all natural. And that which is natural is not something we need to worry about, and definitely not something for which we should shift away from our fossil fuel based economy.

As if this was not enough, a striking similarity is observed in the case of the novel Coronavirus pandemic. While the novel Coronavirus originated in Wuhan, China and indeed caused maximum damage in that city, there is no reflection of this fact in its name. Unlike the Spanish flu, the Wuhan Coronavirus disease has been named COVID-19. This neither helps make the direct connection to the place of origin of this virus, nor does it leave any impressions for the future generation on those parts of the world which are vulnerable to becoming centers of origin for infectious and deadly diseases.

What this has also done is that we are no longer probing the causes that led to the origin of the novel Coronavirus. If the novel Coronavirus was appropriately named Wuhan flu or Wuhan Coronavirus Disease, the global community by now would have urged the People’s Republic of China to allow investigating agencies to delve deeper into the origins of this virus. All that we know about Wuhan and this virus is from the time when novel Coronavirus was not named COVID-19. It was only then that journalists reported that Wuhan has a laboratory which regularly tests and inoculates such viruses. That there was an accident in the laboratory before this outbreak which could have led to the accidental release of some viruses. And that Wuhan has a wet wildlife market where all kinds of wild animals are poached and kept in unsanitary conditions before they are butchered and sold.

Fighting the Crisis

The fight against global warming is ridden with misinformation and deviation from the vested interests. Instead of getting into the root of the problem and preventing the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, the focus has been to develop and promote simultaneous solutions to the crisis such as carbon sequestration, capture and storage. In doing all that, the aim is to ensure, quite literally, business as usual approach and avoid any hindrance in the development of the fossil fuel based industry and economy. It is for this reason that till date, we have not been able to put a moratorium on the extraction and burning of fossil fuel in any form.

The response to the novel Coronavirus is not very different from the above. After being accepted as a problem, and after getting over what now seems to be our knee-jerk reaction (lockdown), we are now adopting a business as usual approach. Of course, in this case, Nature seems to be sending us a warning shot and many cities and states have had to shut down once again because business simply cannot be usual if it is is leading to loss of human lives. If only global warming worked at the same time scale as Coronavirus, coal-based power plants and petroleum refineries would have long been covered with vegetation and creepers enjoying their abandoned state.

Govind Singh

Govind Singh

Dr. Govind Singh is Associate Professor of Environmental Studies at O.P. Jindal Global University and Co-Founder of Delhi Greens NGO. He holds a Master’s and a Ph.D. degree in Environmental Studies from the University of Delhi.

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