Both the Planet and People Have a Fever
Both the Planet and People Have a Fever

Maybe We Should Call it Climate Virus

Unfortunately, far less is being said about the underlying environmental factors behind the pandemic.

In the wake of the 50th anniversary of Earth Week and as we enter the fourth month of the pandemic’s arrival in the states, it is worth noting stark contrasts between the urgent response to COVID-19 and the slower-moving — but even deadlier — climate crisis.

Indeed, both are characterized by frightening fevers: the first, afflicting people; the second, our warming planet. Both also pose a global threat and can be lethal.

Perhaps most notably, taking early action is key to preventing disastrous spread. In both crises, individual behaviors have a collective impact, for worse and/or better.

From where we sit today, immobilized by the invisible but potent coronavirus, perhaps we should start referring to the domino effects of eco-collapse as the “climate virus.”

Like coronavirus, the climate virus worsens and widens in the absence of robust and sustained preventive and restorative action. Over time, both scourges weaken us as their potency to cause damage strengthens.

With the coronavirus now ravaging and paralyzing the entire world, perhaps people will finally grasp the enormous threat of climate change. If COVID-19 was a global wake-up call — now nature seems to shouting at us to wake up and also — smell the carbon!

This is the time to act with all the urgency of an earthly emergency, or at least start talking about it as the other — and related — lethal threat.

We must factor our environment into the equation as we emerge from this novel virus nightmare to begin the rebuilding process. Before you can say “too soon,” or “we can’t deal with both at the same time,” consider this: climate experts would say that it’s nearly too late to stop the worst impacts of planetary distress — in large part because we’ve been so good at kicking the carbon can down the road.

Unfortunately, not nearly enough has been accomplished on the ecological front, even after five decades of environmental activism, as marked by the first Earth Day in 1970. Sure, there’s been progress over the years, but the last thing we can afford is to be in reverse, a backward slide of epic proportions.

Today, people need to realize that the sky really IS falling.

In short, the earth’s atmosphere is breaking down from our greenhouse gas emissions, which, in turn, is fueling extreme weather events such as biblical-size floods, wildfires that become infernos, terrifying tornadoes, and hurricanes (which we can more appropriately dub “horror-canes”).

“We’ve never seen anything like this before,” is the now-standard response from dazed residents standing in a pile of rubble that used to be their homes — be it Paradise, California, the Bahamas, or most recently in Memphis and Chattanooga, Tennessee, to name just a few communities ravaged by weather on steroids.

We now find ourselves staring in the face of a frightening environmental future — and less to escape into the usual distractions of shopping, working, sports, entertainment and even news, which is a dark litany of COVID impacts. A perfect storm of insufficient leadership from too many of our political representatives; corporate America; Wall Street; mainstream news outlets (especially television networks), and until recently, a complacent and preoccupied public, has left us in the rubble, rubbing our bleary eyes.

While there is more than enough blame to go around, the most striking evidence of leadership failure is that in 2020 we have a president who is impervious to life and death scientific realities and is actively rolling back environmental, climate, and public health progress.

Add to that too many Republican politicians and right-wing news outlets — most notably Fox — that are still spewing hot air, perpetuating denial, and downplaying the urgency despite all evidence to the contrary.

Outrageously, Trump tweets out lies while the coronavirus kills and home burns. If we don’t intervene and make an eco u-turn soon, upcoming generations might not survive, let alone thrive.

If that sounds like exaggeration, consider that thousands of Americans have already been killed in extreme weather events: in part because sufficient precautions were not taken to factor in the new normal of weather on steroids. There are examples too numerous to mention. Air pollution alone kills millions across the world each year. Add more pandemics into the mix and that should provide the tsunami of motivation needed for mass action.

Disinformation around the seriousness of the coronavirus threat, perpetuated by conservative media personalities like Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, and Laura Ingraham parallels the continued dismissal and downplaying of the climate and other environmental threats. Not to mention their rude and routine maligning of scientists and mocking of environmental advocates.

After more than a dozen appearances on Hannity’s TV and radio shows, I can attest directly to the blatant and bloviating disregard for facts and the near-unanimous opinion from thousands of climate experts that we are in serious trouble. In fact, Hannity used the same “Climate Hysteria” sign behind him when I was on as he did for “Corona Hysteria.” You’d think making a reported 45-million dollars a year — to brainwash half of America — would provide enough for a new sign!

Is it any wonder that millions still profess to “not believe in” human-caused climate change and thus don’t take the threat seriously? That has an impact on elections which in turn has consequences for not only our climate, environment, and health, but also our economy as clean-up and rebuilding costs billions, even more than prevention in the not-so-long run.

The empty and absurd attempts to refute our planet’s plight thwarts action on so many fronts, resulting in too many Fox-loving fans voting for what I call “deny-o-saurs.” The science-challenged representatives then block or reverse environmental progress for the benefit of special interests — their own or the fossil fuel industry, often with a connection if you follow the money.

How does the Trump administration get away with continually rolling back hard-fought environmental regulations and loosening safeguards designed to protect lung health — like stricter fuel efficiency standards — in the midst of a deadly respiratory pandemic?

How is continually turning a blind eye to so many clear signs of a dying planet not reckless endangerment — just as scientists tell us the window to act is closing?

Where is the outrage, or lawsuits, addressing this form of media malpractice — all done for the short-term financial gains of the fossil fuel industry?

A lawsuit was recently filed against Fox by plaintiffs in Washington state for downplaying the danger of coronavirus. Why not take similar action against Fox — Trump’s megaphone — for recklessly downplaying the danger of our deadly climate crisis?

It may surprise many to learn there are ecological underpinnings to the novel coronavirus that is now holding the world hostage. The mainstream news media has barely mentioned that critical aspect of this crisis. How come?

Disease ecologists say worrisome trends like over-development and habitat loss will only drive more animal-to-human virus-caused pandemics, thus making this apocalypse-like moment not so novel, but in fact, frighteningly common and a sign of things to come.

A crisis is a terrible thing to waste. Let’s use this “great pause” wisely in order to begin making a much-needed and long-overdue “green pivot.” Let’s begin with who we choose to lead us and to whom we choose to listen.

Let us also heed Mother Nature’s warning (a “last call”?) while we are sobered by too many dizzying changes and devastating losses swirling all around us. They are a stark reminder of how quickly things can go south; that we are part of nature; and must act accordingly if we want to live “here,” our only home.

The planned 50th Earth Day celebrations got bumped with barely a mention by major news networks, aside from a story about the silver “green” lining from pollution and emissions going down, our unintended but welcome gift to an imperiled planet. Normally Earth Day brings more than usual coverage which isn’t saying much. Media Matters says in all of 2019 climate stories represented only .07% of network news coverage.

If cable news networks and public attention can swiftly pivot from all political to all pandemic coverage, we can and must start doing the same for our environment, our health, and our kids’ and grandchildren’s future.

To miss this lesson would be to miss our best chance to turn the eco-tide. That failure would be nothing short of eco-cide.

Don’t we at least owe it to the more than 60-thousand American lives that have been suddenly, and shockingly, stolen, so they did not die in vain?

It would seem that safeguarding human health, and protecting nature that makes all life possible, should be our refocused priorities in 2020. “The Great Unmooring,” as some are calling it, has hopefully opened our eyes; clarified, and corrected, our collective vision.

— Broadcast news veteran journalist Betsy Rosenberg has covered the environmental beat for more than two decades. She is a former award-winning CBS Radio reporter and anchor, who went on to host and produce the nation’s first daily green program, EcoTalk on Air America Radio. She is a writer, speaker, and TV commentator on climate change, and related ecosystem issues, as well as a contributing author to the book, Climate Abandoned: We’re on the Endangered Species List. www.betsyrosenberg.com

I am a former CBS Radio journalist, later hosted/produced the nation’s first daily green show, now a writer & media commentator on climate, environmental news.