The pandemic and climate change
FROM A DISTANCE - Carmen N. Pedrosa (The Philippine Star) - November 15, 2020 - 12:00am

There was a time when I dismissed a debate on whether climate change was manmade or a cyclical event of the natural history of the world.

I was sore that a young Swedish girl, Greta Thunberg, was made a spokesperson for the youth to help mitigate climate change. How wrong I was. The youth should take part in the debate because it is they who will suffer if no effective changes are made now.

Imagine my surprise when I found that my own granddaughter was a Greta Thunberg for the Philippines. I found this piece in her computer:

“Hi everyone! I’m Daniela Pedrosa, I am the Internal Strategies and Systems Head for both Bye Bye Plastic Bags PH and Kids for Kids PH, and I am a board member of TAYO, or TAYO Change Agency Inc. I’m currently a senior in PAREF Woodrose School.

I’m sure you’re all very much aware of what COVID-19 is, but there are two things that I think are very important factors to understand the virus and its relationship with our world.

Our interaction with biodiversity is related to the forthcoming of the virus.

Is COVID-19 really an outlier that lies outside the realm of regular expectations? The answer is no. In recent years, hundreds of health experts, scientists, researchers and presidents have warned us of the possibilities of an upcoming pandemic.

Our second factor is the environment, or our interaction with biodiversity.

Ever since the agricultural revolution came about, we have dominated nature with our needs, thus increasing our food production. With populations rising as a result of this increase, together with digitalization and capitalism, we have continuously and mercilessly tilled more and more land to meet our needs.

Many of the viruses that have emerged today, such as HIV, Aids, Ebola, SARS and many other zoonotic diseases, have been caused by our aggressive and constant interaction with wildlife.

In general, the volume of medical waste has increased by up to 40 percent.

The Asian Development Bank estimated that hospitals in Metro Manila would generate 280 metric tons of medical waste in a single day.

And because a lot of restaurants, groceries and other businesses have stopped allowing the use of reusable bags, cups and other things like that for hygienic purposes, there’s also been a big increase in the use of single-use plastics, apart from PPEs.

We use up approximately 129 billion face masks and 65 billion gloves every month.

The problem with disposable masks is that a lot of them are made of a few layers of different polymers.

In the Philippines, our waste is currently being treated through the use of autoclave or the process where waste is subjected to extreme heat and pressure to kill pathogens, and is then brought to a licensed sanitary landfill for disposal in a cell dedicated for infectious waste.

It’s important that we find sustainable ways to deal with it now. The problem with waste doesn’t lie as much in our consumption as it does with our disposal.

Then there is organic waste. So we’ve seen a rise in this type of waste due to severe cuts in agricultural and fish exports. With import restrictions in export markets and a lack of cargo transportation services, a lot of agricultural and fishery commodities have been left behind untouched, and the decay of these commodities releases a lot of methane, which is a greenhouse gas that is 28 times more powerful than carbon dioxide at warming the earth.

The negative effects, the maintenance and monitoring of natural ecosystems, have been temporarily halted, and tourism activity to natural areas has also ceased.

Some energy agencies are already predicting that emissions in some countries will rise again by 5 percent as lockdowns are lifted. The decrease we’re seeing is very temporary, and the truth is, we aren’t going to see real sustainable changes until we change our way of doing things.

There is also less air traffic because people aren’t traveling anymore, and a lot of these airplane emissions were caused by business trips and conferences that consisted of people from all over the world. And on a much smaller scale, lots of people are working from home.

The pandemic has highlighted the possibility of meeting and working online, which may become a long-term thing if people find it efficient enough. Going back to what I mentioned earlier about the decrease in air pollution being temporary, we’re only actually seeing a 5 percent reduction at most in carbon emissions this year.

But we need to be seeing at least a 7.6 percent reduction year-after-year for the next decade if we want to stay within our carbon budget.

This is where our opportunities come in. If our new normal consists of more online meetings and transactions, governments will need to start investing more in electrical energy for vehicles, as well as in making internet capacity much more efficient and accessible, to make these things a reality and pave the way to a more sustainable future.

This is why we’re putting it under the in-between – the decreases that we’re seeing in pollution are very temporary, but they don’t have to be. It’s really up to us and our governments to continue pushing for this decrease through policies, laws, investing and smarter planning. Now that we’re done with the negative effects and the in-between of the pandemic, let’s move on to the last point.

The pandemic highlighted the boundaries that we are limited in our world and the boundaries that need respecting to prevent the next pandemic, if we want to prevent climate change from further deteriorating our planet and change our means of doing business as usual.

When we talk about the environment we aren’t just talking about the plants and trees. We’re talking about the world we live in and everything that makes it what it is.

Everything is related to the environment. Our ability to solve this pandemic and prevent future ones from happening lies in our willingness to change the way we live as well as the systems that bring about behavior that our world can’t tolerate. (Excerpted from webinar on the Pandemic and Climate Change.)

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