The Echo – Weekly Climate Newsletter #1: Covid-19 and Climate

Our first edition comes to you in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. With Eswatini confirming nine cases of the virus as of Friday morning and with now over a million cases around the world, it’s fair to be overwhelmed by the enormity of a worldwide disaster and the uncertainty, fear and frustration that comes with it. 

But this pandemic comes with the opportunity to collectively understand how our actions have directly contributed to the situation we find ourselves in, and how to urgently adjust our attitudes, actions and policies so that we do not go back to “business as usual”. Experts agree that the climate crisis and the destruction of nature and wildlife are hurting humanity, with COVID-19 a ‘clear warning shot’.

The Cause

  • COVID-19 crossed over to humans from an animal. It remains unclear whether this was a wild animal — likely bats — or as newer research suggests industrially farmed livestock.  Crossovers from livestock such as pigs and chickens account over two million human deaths every year all around the world. The high density of animals such as pigs in industrial farms and the similarities between pigs and humans’ immune systems make them a possible host. Importantly, blaming far away cultures’ eating habits for the cause of these diseases is not productive. Now is not the time for bigotry or racism.
  • An earlier hypothesis is that COVID-19 crossed over from pangolins, an endangered anteater that despite being illegal traffic in most countries (including China) is the world’s most trafficked wild mammal. Pangolins are found in Asia and Africa, including in Eswatini where they too face poaching.
  • Human disruption of intact wildernesses means that we are increasingly exposed to the thousands of viruses that are constantly circulating in animal populations. HIV, Ebola, Bird Flu, H1N1 and SARS are just a few recent diseases that have crossed over from animals — because of human exploitation.  
  • The climate crisis and this pandemic have the same root causes. This important article and statement from the African Centre for Biodiversity explains. “The COVID-19 outbreak illustrates the complex interactions between deforestation, reduced biological diversity, ecosystem destruction, and human health and safety, in large part driven by the globalised agricultural and food system. Further, with the threats posed by climate change, we can expect greater exposure to existing and emerging pathogens.”
  • This pandemic is symptomatic of a wider issue — humans have a corrupted relationship with the natural world that has caused both the climate crisis and this pandemic that is upending lives around the world. In order to decrease the likelihood of another pandemic and many other social and environmental issues, it is vital that we stop this destruction
Human destruction of habitats is increasingly exposing us to pathogens like COVID-19. Photo by qinghill on Unsplash

The Impact

  • The reduction in emissions due to coronavirus responses has gone, well, viral. For instance, CO2 emissions reduced 25% last month due to China’s efforts to contain COVID-19. However, climate action group, Extinction Rebellion warns against harmful narratives that rejoice in this by claiming that “humans are the virus” and mistakenly lay blame at the feet of the most vulnerable and marginalised – “Eco-fascism” narratives like this can be incredibly destructive, and we need to move towards using language and developing policies that embrace broader approaches to eco-justice and equality.
  • Graph: The climate crisis and other environmental issues are threat multipliers when it comes to pandemics. Have a look at this graph from the 2002 SARS epidemic that shows that more polluted areas have twice the death rate from that corona-virus outbreak. The same is likely to be true with COVID-19. 

  • This article even makes the point that lockdowns, like that in Eswatini, may actually save more lives by abating pollution than by slowing COVID-19 infection. Hopefully, in the long term (especially given the current  crisis among OPEC countries that may make fossil fuels less economically viable to produce), this pandemic will be a catalyst to move to more renewable-energy based futures and lives (and money) can continue to be saved.
  • Why are we panicking about this pandemic but not the existential threat of the climate crisis? Experts in this Huffington Post article explain why human’s responses to these two threats are so drastically different. Part of the difference, it’s easy to see climate catastrophe as an “over there” in the future problem. Both crises require decisive action!
  • Climate strikes continue! In efforts to ensure social distancing, the movement has gone online. It also makes it easier for people in more remote areas around Eswatini to participate in this global movement. Simply post a picture of yourself or a friend with the hashtag #ClimateStrikeOnline every Friday. 
  • This pandemic remains a disaster. Many of the social and economic disruptions that it is causing are likely to be similar to those that a changing climate will cause. It should act as a warning. The fight for a cleaner climate is even more urgent. Let’s rebuild our societies after this pandemic in a way that will be better for all of us and the planet – It can be done! As the author, Vishwas Satgar, states,COVID-19 has thrown us into a state of exception. From a climate justice perspective, this is a dress rehearsal for a world that breaches 2 and 3 degrees Celsius in which climate shocks on a global scale imperil life-supporting socio-ecological systems such as food, water and health systems through unbearable temperatures. Waking up then is too late.”

A newly formed and independent organization — Vikela emaSwati — is taking decisive action on COVID-19! They are producing and sharing life saving information on the virus designed for Eswatini. Follow them on  Facebook, Instagram or Twitter @vikelaemaswati. Below is one of the fantastic graphics they created in collaboration with @elsamadelinedesign.

Credits to Elsa Madeline Design and Vikela emaSwati

We hope that you and your loved ones are safe in these extremely difficult times during the lockdown. Please follow all physical distancing and personal hygiene recommendations, and stay informed and connected with your friends and loved ones.

Remember look after your neighbours and your community, especially those that are most vulnerable and in need. The elderly, disabled, OVCs and those working in informal economies are going to be the hardest hit in the times to come, and it is up to all of us to work together as a resilient society showing support and unity. 

Please keep informed with the national statistics and responses to the pandemic in Eswatini on the Government page: www.gov.sz/index.php/covid-19-corona-virus/situational-analysis

We are in the process of getting our ECCO website set up so you will hear more from us soon! Send us feedback, ideas or stories at eswatini.climate@gmail.com and let us know if you would be interested in contributing to any of our stories or newsletters (we are particularly looking for Eswatini-focused news and information).

— All the best, 

Maru & Dane

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