Climate Change, Covid-19 & You: Lessons from Science

In this video, we discuss the disturbing similarities between how the US is coping with climate change and sea level rise and Covid-19.

There are many disturbing similarities between how the U.S. is dealing with the climate change and Covid-19 pandemic crises. In both cases, the science is well established. We know what’s driving climate change, global warming, and sea level rise and almost all there is to know about the coronavirus that has tragically killed over 200,000 Americans and sickened many millions more.

In this video, we discuss climate change and Covid-19 and the need to recognize the science behind them to create effective national policies to deal with them. If we don’t take an aggressive, comprehensive, science-backed approach, climate change and Covid-19 will continue to threaten America and the world. In the case of climate change, this will mean that the seas will continue to rise, flooding valuable real estate and threatening entire communities, wildfires will continue to burn out of control, and more animals will be put at risk of extinction.

Humans have through sheer numbers and technology assumed control over the world and its destiny. It’s time we take that responsibility seriously.

The Coronavirus Pandemic Threatens to Worsen the Effects of Global Warming and Sea Level Rise

Two widely reported (and rare) positive impacts of the Covid-19 Coronavirus pandemic tragedy are cleaner air and a 17 percent reduction in the greenhouse gas emissions that drive global warming and sea level rise.

Residents in cities around the world have been astonished to see mountain ranges at a distance that have rarely been seen in generations due to curtains of smog. And the drop in greenhouse gas emissions has led many to believe that global warming and sea level rise have been derailed.

Unfortunately, the real picture isn’t so rosy. While there have been a few months with greenhouse gases on the decline — mainly due to the fact that people under lockdown aren’t driving to work — the the high concentration of carbon dioxide accumulated since the turn of the last century remains intact. This ultimately means global warming continues, as does sea level rise.

Some observers see even the temporary drop in the release of greenhouse gases as proof-positive that humanity can tame global warming, thereby preventing the predicted extreme weather — mega droughts, heat waves, floods and intense hurricanes — from impacting society and sea level rise from inundating major cities around the world. Their reasoning is that if people under threat of a pandemic can reduce consumption of fossil fuels, then people facing catastrophe from a warming planet can do the same.

If only it were that simple.

The fact is that most people reduced fossil fuel consumption not as a direct goal to save the environment but because under lockdown they didn’t have a choice. It’s doubtful that without the immediate crisis people would have willingly stopped driving. In addition, there are signs that as nations and states reopen commuters will avoid potential exposure to the virus on public transportation and start driving to work in increasing numbers. This, of course, will increase the rate at which carbon dioxide is pumped into the atmosphere.

Some observers have also opined that the recovery from the pandemic is an excellent opportunity for governments to invest in a new world powered by renewable energy. That’s a very noble goal, but the reality is governments have already spent so much saving their economies from pandemic-related collapse it’s unlikely they’ll have the funds necessary to pay for such an ambitious project.

Further complicating matters in the United States is the fact that the federal government is reluctant to provide emergency funding to state and local governments facing severe deficits due to the loss of tax revenue from economic inactivity during the lockdown and the unexpected expenses involved in dealing with the pandemic. This is especially worrisome because many of the state and local governments grappling with climate change and sea level rise-related expenses were already counting on the federal government to provide a portion of the millions and even billions of dollars they need to fund projects that would protect real estate and critical infrastructure. Without federal assistance, it will be difficult for them to pay for projects, such as seawalls and pump stations and raising roads and water pipes.

When we’re in the middle of the pandemic, it’s hard to predict how this will all play out. One thing’s for sure, however, global warming and sea level rise still pose a threat to coastal communities, and real estate buyers and owners ignore them at their own peril. Bottom Line: If many of the projects needed to protect homes and businesses from sea level rise flooding aren’t funded and begun now, more real estate and critical infrastructure will be inundated in the years to come.

Will the Coronavirus Disaster Spur Governments to Act on Climate Change?

As the world grapples with the coronavirus, economies have slowed to the point that the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere has plummeted. Some environmentalists see this as proof that humans are in fact capable of burning less fossil fuels, which, they believe, will enable us to escape the deadly heat waves, powerful storms, lengthy droughts, rapid sea level rise, food shortages and mass displacement predicted in current climate change forecasts.

Stewart Patrick, the James H. Binger senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, isn’t so sure. In a column published today in World Politics Review, Patrick writes that nobody “welcomes a pandemic that threatens to kill millions” but that the the pandemic has “captured many environmentalists’ imaginations, by showing what a less polluted planet might look like and suggesting how the world might mobilize to fight climate change.”

In Patrick’s view, the environmentalists’ vision is a mirage. He writes: “Unfortunately, the response to COVID-19 is more likely to frustrate than inspire strong global action on climate change. Governments will prioritize short-term economic goals over long-term sustainability, while loosening environmental regulations and their enforcement.”

Unfortunately, for the planet and those of us living on it now and in the not-so-distant future, Patrick’s opinion that governments will use the the pandemic as an excuse to loosen environmental regulations to bolster the economy is already happening. The Trump administration recently gutted Obama-era rules that would have reduced auto emissions. The Trump Environmental Protection Agency also issued a rule that absolves industry of reporting pollution violations if they were committed due to the pandemic. The U.S. isn’t the only country to take such steps, either. China, too, is relaxing its environmental regulations to fire-up its wounded economy.

Patrick said public demand for a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions will also likely wane as people who lost their jobs due to the pandemic become more interested in making a living than protecting the planet.

If Patrick’s right, the coronavirus pandemic will actually serve not as a lesson on how we can escape the coming climate change disaster, it will amplify it.

Coronavirus Failures Reveal the Same Shortcomings Found in Federal Climate Change and Sea Level Rise Responses

Some leaders, almost exclusively conservatives, in the federal government call it a hoax or fake news. They refuse to acknowledge its existence and eliminate personnel and programs that could provide an effective response. When they should be mounting an effective response, they avert their eyes. Meanwhile, the problem grows worse each and every day.

This narrative is as true for the coronavirus, a threat that’s growing exponentially, as it is for climate change and sea level rise that, too, are growing worse each and every day. Both pose a real and present danger to public health and the economy. And both can only be brought under control by leaders who listen to scientists and implement plans based on their counsel.

The unfortunate thing in both cases, is that while the denialists and their supporters don’t take the problems seriously — and often obstruct and undermine those who do — for their selfish political and financial gains, the virus and the ever-warming planet continue to pose threats to life and property.

There is no mistaking that the failures that set back an effective, fact-based response to coronavirus, with costs that are playing out before our own eyes, are the same ones that are going to eventually catch up to us in climate change and sea level rise.

In the case of climate change and sea level rise, scientists are sounding a blaring warning alarm as is the planet. On a global basis, humanity is continually setting records for the burning of the fossil fuels that cause global warming, which in turns melts land-based ice and snow and causes the oceans to expand. The planet is responding by continuously breaking temperature records on land and sea and by increasing the frequency and intensity of weather disasters, such as droughts, floods and hurricanes. Many communities are also already being forced to make hard decisions as sea levels rise floods valuable real estate.

The lack of responsible and effective federal leadership that respects scientific facts is forcing state and local governments to draft and implement their own solutions. Just as in the case of coronavirus, the lack of federal leadership and the reliance on a patchwork response, puts everyone at-risk.

The lesson to be learned from coronavirus is that the world cannot afford national leaders who deny basic science. They put our lives, our livelihoods, our financial futures, and, ultimately, the only planet we’ll ever know at risk of total destruction. In the real estate world, we’re already seeing climate change and sea level rise flooding putting enormous stress on the flood insurance system, which could cause it to fail — an eventuality that would lock up the mortgage market and cause real estate values to plummet.

Unless we shove aside the climate change and sea level rise denialists and mount an aggressive national response to the roots of the problems now, the markets will most certainly start to collapse. The damage is sure to be much worse and longer-lasting than the damage now being inflicted by coronavirus.