Shutting down whole economies because of the coronavirus pandemic means cleaner skies in many of the world’s most polluted places. That sounds like good news for climate change, as well as the fight against COVID-19.
Air pollution and increased heat are “threat multipliers” that make respiratory diseases like COVID-19 worse than ever, says Katherine Hayhoe, a climate scientist and political science professor at Texas Tech University.
In addition, trafficking wildlife and destroying their habitats could significantly increase the risk of a virus jumping from an animal to humans, she adds.
At some point, stay-at-home orders will be lifted. “We can’t close the schools. We can’t shut down the economy and industry. Those are just not sustainable solutions,” Hayhoe says. And as businesses and commuting resume like usual, it’ll be tough to keep those skies clear.
In talk around both climate change and COVID-19, political tribalism comes up. “The exact same discussions are playing out in real time with the pandemic as [they] play out with climate change. The same tensions are rising to the fore, and we’re seeing the same gridlock,” says Hayhoe.
That tension is especially dramatic for President Trump, who’s on “a long sort of slow slide toward a more authoritarian form of government,” says Stephen Walt, professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.
COVID-19 has not been good for Trump’s ratings, and if the president thinks he’s likely to lose in November, he may be ready to “break rules in order to keep himself in power,” Walt says.