5 Ways the Coronavirus Empowers Greater Climate Action

5 Ways the Coronavirus Empowers Greater Climate Action

By Carrie Metzgar | May 14, 2020

There is no doubt the coronavirus outbreak has awakened a new way of life. This pandemic has quickly led us to adopt new behaviors and adapt lifestyles in ways that were unimaginable just a few months ago. We now greatly understand the importance of washing our hands often for at least 20 seconds, wearing cloth face coverings when out in public, keeping a distance of 6-feet apart from others, and staying home to practice social and physical distancing. We have implemented these behaviors to keep ourselves and others safe and healthy. In a profound way, COVID-19 has not only given us greater reason to protect our health, but also our planet.

During this time, as the world collectively adapts to low-carbon lifestyles, we have witnessed the beauty of unintended climate benefits - cleaner air, clearer water, and rejuvenation of animal habitat. As the pandemic subsides, pre-coronavirus behaviors and lifestyles will likely return, placing stress on the environment once again. However, now more than ever, let us take this historic time as an opportunity to awaken a new understanding of climate action. Let us reflect on the power of collective action and how we can continue to come together to create a more sustainable and resilient future.

Elizabeth Sawin, co-director of Climate Interactive, expressed: “If we can tell that story of what we went through [coronavirus pandemic] and help people understand that this is an accelerated version of another story [climate crisis] we’re going through that has the same plot structure but a different timeline, that could be transformative.” Now is the time to begin re-writing the next chapters of how we protect both the health of the planet as well as ourselves.

Here are five ways the coronavirus pandemic is empowering greater climate action.


Flattening the curve of the coronavirus pandemic has shown when the health of populations is under stress, large-scale mobilization is possible. What is true for the virus remains true for the climate. The sooner we come together and use our collective voices, the sooner we can make choices to safeguard public health and the environment.


Perhaps one of the greatest takeaways during this time is learning we have the remarkable capacity as a society to take swift action and rapidly change behavior. We have seen how making quick adjustments to our lifestyles better supports healthcare resources and protects the more vulnerable communities. Similarly, this is the same attitude needed to help combat climate change. Our small acts can make a big difference in transforming energy consumption and protecting those more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. We all play an important role in developing solutions to the coronavirus, just as we all play an important role in resolving the climate crisis.


Preparation is a key principle for both the coronavirus and climate change. If you wait until you can see the impact, it is too late to prevent it. As with the case of the virus, governments and populations started to spring into action as the number of confirmed cases drastically increased, or as its impacts became more “visible.” This sense of “invisibility” also rings true with greenhouse gas emissions. It can be difficult to understand the importance of taking action when we cannot see, feel, or smell the causes; but by anticipating and preparing accordingly, we can be at the forefront of solutions and prevention.


The coronavirus does not recognize geographic boundaries. It impacts nations regardless of location and population - and the same speaks true for climate change. During times of global stress, it is of the utmost importance to remember the power of acting locally. Our communities have responded to the virus by adopting distance learning, working from home when possible, pausing unnecessary travel, and supporting local markets and restaurants. The accumulation of localized actions, multiplied by cities, regions, and nations equates to significant global change and action. The strength of community has emerged from this pandemic, let it continue to be a driving force for greater climate action.


The coronavirus pandemic leads us to question what the future of our daily lives will look like, what the "new norm" will entail. We wonder when is it safe to return to work, school, and sports? What systematic changes will need to be implemented when we do return? How should I budget for the short-term and financially plan for the uncertainty of the long-term? The virus has pushed on the networks that make up our everyday civilization – transportation, energy, economy, and healthcare. Climate change is also pushing on these networks, with long-term risks and implications. This pandemic is teaching us just how crucial it is to anticipate and prepare for the shocks and stresses that life brings. Many of the solutions that help to alleviate climate change also enhance resilience, enabling society to have the adaptive capacity to cope and overcome challenges.