Coronavirus
(Credit: Macau Photo Agency/Unsplash)

Climate, coffee, cocoa, Corona

There are still a lot of unknowns with the current pandemic. But we can learn lessons about failing to prepare.

As evidence mounts that we've ignored opportunities to prepare for the infectious onslaught that's now upon us – not enough hospital beds, test kits, or even alcohol swabs – let's think about the 30 years of warning signs we've had to halt, or at least cope with, climate change.


Let's start with the lightweight ones – how climate change is nibbling at the edges of affluence.

These stories abound, not so much because they are the most dire climate impacts, but, in part, because people in the journalism biz struggle to make immense stories like this one relevant to the lives of readers and viewers:

  • About 50% of the land now devoted to growing your morning cup o' joe is expected to be unavailable by the year 2100.
  • Grape harvest records from France's Bordeaux region date back nearly 700 years. They show grape harvests took place two weeks later back then.
  • Pests and fungi spread by rising temperatures may doom a breakfast staple, the Cavendish banana, within decades.
  • Extreme weather caught the blame for the failure of Italy's signature crop, olives, in 2019. Italy was a net importer of olives last year.
  • Skiing: Lack of snowpack from the Rockies to the Alps is shortening seasons, and threatening some resorts with extinction.
  • Pond hockey, long a birthright in much of the cold weather world, is now imperiled.
  • Summer flounder is moving north, to the chagrin of middle Atlantic sport fishers.
  • Climate concern is growing among hunters and sport fishers. There are 34 million of them in the US, with reasons to care about climate.
Pond hockey

Pond hockey (Credit: Taylor Friehl/Unsplash)

Climate impacts in our food or sporting and cultural events have a direct parallel to the impact of Coronavirus in cancelling pro sports seasons or gatherings like Coachella. And, like the pandemic, they're a herald of more serious problems to come.

But after perusing all these stories, I try to place myself in a South Pacific island village, awaiting inundation from sea level rise. Or a coastal village in Alaska, Louisiana, or Bangladesh. Places where climate change doesn't mean a loss of pond hockey or Bordeaux, it means a loss of everything.

Or try a less remote place: Unheard-of wildfires leveling California towns and Australian cities; more intense typhoons and hurricanes obliterating islands in the Philippines or Bahamas; streets awash in Norfolk or Miami.

Flooding sea level rise

(Credit: Piyush Priyank/Unsplash)

Or more universal consequences: Mass extinctions, acidified oceans, violent and lethal weather extremes, and more. These are things that may not cause the stock market to tank (yet).

Maybe – just maybe – the Coronavirus disaster offers a powerful lesson that could be of use in battling against the climate disaster.

President Trump's thorough disdain for science and scientific expertise has been on full display in his declarations and assurances on the pandemic. Criticism that the U.S. is poorly prepared to test and treat the victims fits a familiar pattern as well.

Is it too much to hope that Americans, as the song once vainly hoped, won't be fooled again?

That scientists not only can be trusted, but have to be trusted? And that the kind of drop-everything push on climate can prevent bigger, costlier, deadlier problems later on?

I've become far too cynical to think we can count on this.

But maybe.

Peter Dykstra is our weekend editor and columnist. His views do not represent those of Environmental Health News, The Daily Climate or publisher, Environmental Health Sciences. Contact him at pdykstra@ehn.org or on Twitter at @Pdykstra.

climate change plastic
Credit: UNEP

Op-ed: Ending toxic threats to Alaska from plastics and petrochemicals

An ambitious Plastics Treaty that controls plastic production and eliminates the use of toxic chemicals would begin to rectify the environmental injustices experienced by Indigenous Peoples.

Flames, belching smoke, and black carbon in the sky—on nights when I (Rosemary) saw 20 or more flares, I knew sick people would be coming.
Keep reading...Show less
Senator Whitehouse & climate change

Senator Whitehouse puts climate change on budget committee’s agenda

For more than a decade, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse gave daily warnings about the mounting threat of climate change. Now he has a powerful new perch.
Amid LNG’s Gulf Coast expansion, community hopes to stand in its way
Coast Guard inspects Cameron LNG Facility in preparation for first LNG export in 2019. (Credit: Coast Guard News)

Amid LNG’s Gulf Coast expansion, community hopes to stand in its way

This 2-part series was co-produced by Environmental Health News and the journalism non-profit Economic Hardship Reporting Project. See part 1 here.Este ensayo también está disponible en español
Keep reading...Show less

Global climate impacts are set to drastically reduce average income levels by 2050

A new study reveals that by 2050, global incomes will decrease by almost 20% on average due to severe climate impacts, which will cost significantly more than proactive measures to limit temperature rises.

Jonathan Watts reports for The Guardian.

Keep reading...Show less
Biden's Arctic policy curbs drilling
Credit: JLS Photography - Alaska/Flickr

Biden's Arctic policy curbs drilling and blocks road construction

President Biden curtails fossil fuel extraction in Alaska, aiming to preserve the region's pristine habitats.

Maxine Joselow reports for The Washington Post.

Keep reading...Show less

New rule prioritizes conservation on US public lands

A new rule introduced by the Biden administration aims to balance conservation with economic activities on America's public lands, enhancing protections and sustainable use.

Catrin Einhorn reports for The New York Times.

Keep reading...Show less
Deepwater Horizon oil spill
Credit: Florida Sea Grant/Flickr

The lasting impact of the Deepwater Horizon spill on marine life

A recent expedition to the Gulf of Mexico has revealed ongoing environmental damage from the Deepwater Horizon disaster, showing little signs of recovery for the marine ecosystem.

Xander Peters reports for Hakai Magazine.

Keep reading...Show less

Impact of climate change on Indigenous communities documented in global study

Indigenous and local communities' firsthand experiences with climate change are vividly detailed in a new extensive study.

Sonam Lama Hyolmo reports for Mongabay.

Keep reading...Show less
From our Newsroom
New EPA regulations mean a closer eye on the nation’s petrochemical hub

New EPA regulations mean a closer eye on the nation’s petrochemical hub

Houston’s fenceline communities welcome stricter federal rules on chemical plant emissions but worry about state compliance.

plastic composting

Bioplastics create a composting conundrum

Biodegradable food packaging is a step in the right direction, experts say, but when composted carries risks of microplastic and chemical contamination.

plastic treaty

Groups push Biden administration to take leadership role at upcoming plastic treaty talks

The US has taken a “middle of the road position” so far, environmental groups say.

chemical recycling Youngstown

Listen: Why communities in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia are fighting chemical recycling plants

EHN reporter Kristina Marusic discusses her new three-part series on the controversies surrounding chemical recycling.

chemical recycling

Latest chemical recycling plant closing spurs concern over the industry’s viability

Oregon’s Regenyx plant announced its closing in late February, with those involved calling it a success, despite never reaching planned capacity and millions of dollars lost.

plastic treaty

Everything you need to know for the fourth round of global plastic pollution treaty talks

Countries will meet this month in Ottawa to move forward on the historic treaty — but obstacles remain.

Stay informed: sign up for The Daily Climate newsletter
Top news on climate impacts, solutions, politics, drivers. Delivered to your inbox week days.