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IOWA Magazine | September 2020

Post-Pandemic World: Environment

Local, national, and international cooperation are needed to combat global issues such as pandemics and climate change.

Interdependency Becomes Our Strength

BY JERRY SCHNOOR Co-Director of the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research

CLIMATE CHANGE did not cause the coronavirus pandemic. And coronavirus did not cause climate change. In fact, the virus has indirectly improved air and water quality due to the economic slowdown of quarantining. But any improvements in air and water have been localized and short-lived as countries reopen.

Although greenhouse gas emissions have declined as a result of the lockdown, global warming will not improve because our emissions decreased by only a small amount for the year. Greenhouse gases in the atmosphere already are enormous, and they last for more than a century.

Now that we find ourselves in a pandemic, the world waits for a vaccine or effective treatment. Tragically, the virus is deadly serious. The disease that the virus causes, COVID-19, will continue to kill until at least two-thirds of everyone has been infected, thus creating herd immunity. Craving to find new host cells wherever it can, the virus and pandemic could last for years.

Can't we respond and recover more quickly with better cooperation at the local, national, and international levels? It is one planet that the virus travails and where the greenhouse gases mix—we are all in this together. —Jerry Schnoor

That a novel microscopic virus can bring the world to its knees is quite humbling. We are so vulnerable. Not only are we susceptible to infectious agents that jump from bats to humans, we are laid bare by many different disasters—be they from hurricanes, earthquakes, fires, floods or illness— whether caused by pandemics, climate change, or other calamities.

The common thread, our most basic vulnerability, is economic. When 40% of Americans cannot pay an unexpected bill of $400, we are exceedingly vulnerable. But we want to be resilient, to have the ability to respond and recover from an unexpected disaster. When cars lined up for miles at food banks after the virus hit and jobs were lost, we knew we lacked basic resiliency. People were hungry. How can one not weep at such a sight in the richest country in the world? Forty million people lost their jobs due to the lockdown and many their health care insurance at the same time.

Coronavirus and climate change teach us valuable lessons. How can we adapt and mitigate? Who are the essential workers, and how much are they paid? How fragile is the agriculture and food production system, goods delivery system, health care, water infrastructure, and transportation systems? Can't we respond and recover more quickly with better cooperation at the local, national, and international levels? It is one planet that the virus travails and where the greenhouse gases mix—we are all in this together.

Listen to the needs of one another. Complex systems with millions of links and interdependencies are the most stable, resilient systems. Collectively we can respond to pandemics and climate change alike. People and the planet matter.

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