The Climate Pandemic

No one is safe, until everyone is.

The world is currently reeling from the devastation of the Corona virus pandemic.

Everyone is facing extraordinary challenges, with the pandemic having a catastrophic effect on lives and livelihoods. The impact of the pandemic on economies and healthcare systems is immeasuarable.

We keep hearing of thousands of SMEs, and large and small hotels, shutting down, resulting in widespread job losses. EPF savings are being emptied fast as families struggle to survive. The Government appears to be in chaos. We can foresee a boom in non-performing loans and perhaps even the banking sector collapsing.

This scenario is not entirely unanticipated. In fact, in 2005, President George W. Bush (after reading a book about the 1918 flu pandemic) already forewarned: ‘If we wait for a pandemic to appear, it will be too late to prepare’.

When President Bush first told his aides that he wanted to focus on the potential of a global pandemic, many of them harboured doubts. However, on his insistence novel ways of vaccine development begun … and so the foundation was laid.

Thanks to this foresight and to the new vaccines for the Corona virus being able to be developed rapidly, there is some hope for restoration in the coming years.

Similarly, in spite of the forewarnings, when the Wuhan virus was first announced in December 2019, Malaysia like many other countries did not take it seriously – even after hearing of the crises in Italy, Spain, UK, and USA. It seemed too distant to affect us. There wasn’t a speedy response, at first by the government, businesses and people themselves.

There were many adamant naysayers – many not even wanting to register for the vaccination in the beginning, who instead opted to rely on others to take the vaccine to flatten the curve, displaying a selfish attitude.

Let’s now turn to Climate Change. The Climate Change scenario is not too different. It’s silent but slowly and steadily getting more and more intensive. And we risk being boiled like a frog. Remember the analogy that if you drop a frog into hot water it will leap out, but if you put it in cold water and turn the cooker up it will not know until it has boiled.

It took many decades of painstaking research by many scientists to understand the root cause of climate change.

As far back as in the year 1985, Ramanathan, an Indian scientist, and collaborators announced that global warming may come twice as fast as expected, from the rise of methane and other trace greenhouse gases.

Following these predictions, Climate Change first became front-page news 33 years ago in 1988, when the potentially disruptive impact of heat-trapping emissions from burning fossil fuels and rain forests were reported.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a United Nations body, was established and its first report in 1990 said the world has been warming steadily and increased future warming seems likely.

Since then, we have had yearly United Nations sponsored Climate Change Summits. Thus, Mankind has been sufficiently warned.

There are similarities between the Corona virus pandemic and Climate Change.

Just like in the case of Corona virus pandemic when many were doubtful, global warming skeptics are hard at work to sprinkle doubts as to the cause of the global warming that leads to Climate Change. They do their utmost to de-couple climate change from greenhouse gas emissions. This is causing a delay to combat Climate Change.

How responsive are the governments, businesses and people to the dangers of Climate Change and to overcoming or mitigating them? At least, now, after witnessing the current pandemic, do they realise that climate change will also have similar catastrophic and pandemic repercussions on the world, if not worse?

Like the Corona virus pandemic, the Climate Change pandemic will also have crippling effects on lives, livehoods and the global economy – but on an even bigger scale.

It’s expected to endanger essential global public good, human health, and it will impact an already weakened global economy, affecting it both from the supply and demand side, whether through the interruption of production chains – which will severely hurt global trade – or through the loss of income and profitability due to higher unemployment and disrupted agriculture. This will severely affect countries that export agricultural commodities like palm oil, besides causing potential widespread famine.

The trajectory is clear — hotter heat waves, drier droughts, bigger storm surges and greater snowfall. The recent record-breaking heatwave witnessed in Canada and western US and reported deaths linked to the heatwave are reminders of the increasing catastrophe to befall the Earth as CO2 levels continue to rise.

Warming and acidification due to rising CO2 levels cause sea levels to rise with receding shorelines and implications for flooding / inundation of low-lying islands. Ocean acidification will have adverse impacts on fisheries and aquaculture.

No country will be able to fight the Climate pandemic without the kind of global and regional cooperation on an international scale as we are seeing now in the case of the present Covid pandemic.

We have heard it before that “No one is safe, until everyone is” – it does not matter where the emissions take place on Earth, this is why we need a global response urgently to address Climate Change.

All of us need to rethink very carefully, whether we are doing our part to mitigate climate change and the horrific consequences it could potentially wreak. We need a new vision to focus ourselves on how to cope with the extremely difficult scenario that lies before us if we don’t act now.

We need to realise one big difference, that is, unlike disease pandemics, climate change is not reversible and there will be no vaccine to give hope, when that comes, to make it go away.

We can halt its progression, but won’t be able to reverse it. Climate action to halt or slowdown its progression requires transformation of economic, energy, and technological systems and policies, and their governance.

Think of your carbon emissions, energy inefficiencies, and its impact on climate change. The palm oil mills hold a very great potential to make the planet a better place for all.

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