Year 2, Ep. 5: Climate Change and Coronavirus

Book Club, Climate Tips, Episodes, News / Tuesday, March 17th, 2020

The news is saturated with coronavirus, so I wanted to put the global pandemic into a climate change context: what this outbreak means for global emissions and short- and long-term climate action. I set some new challenges for myself based on my new coronavirus reality here in Germany, and share some film and book tips for those of you shut up at home the next few weeks. And I invite you to be my book buddy in reading “Was würdest du tun?” Take a listen to the episode here:

Coronavirus and climate change

I read a lot about the connections between coronavirus and climate change this week. Here are some articles I recommend:

  • Carbon dioxide emissions are down at least 25%, and NO2 down 40% in China, which means 200 million tons of CO2 reductions since January, according to the Washington Post. Unfortunately, this is half of the extra emissions caused by either the fires in Australia or Brazil over the past year.
  • This includes the reduction of 13,000 daily domestic and international flights in China, according to the New York Times.
  • Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) emissions have dropped sharply in Italy, primarily from reduced diesel car travel (responsible for 70% of emissions). This continues previous trends: Italy’s emissions are down 30% in last 15 years. Unrelated, but cool, the country is also planning to include mandatory instruction on climate change and sustainable development in schools, according to the Washington Post.
  • Large climate protests suspended; Deutsche Welle reports on how temporary measures could be translated to long-term changes: better infrastructure for telecommuting and virtual conferences, and what some experts call a “managed contraction of economic activity” – or planned degrowth.
  • Placing the health risk of coronavirus in perspective: it’s less deadly than fossil fuels, which are responsible for 4.5 million air pollution-related deaths per year, according to Greenpeace. When I checked this morning, COVID-19 had claimed 7,100 lives (and counting, of course).
  • International climate negotiators are worried about how coronavirus is disrupting international discussions on the Paris Agreement. This year is important because countries are supposed to announce new pledges, ideally getting global emissions below the 1.5 degrees of warming scientists say is necessary. Cancelling the planned travel to get to these pledges likely means fewer discussions, which could derail negotiations. On top of that, with coronavirus on everyone’s mind, many are worried whether interest in climate action will fall by the wayside. Instead, politicians obsessed with economic growth may call for stimulus packages that mean more emissions. From Time magazine.

This means it’s important to start thinking now about what economic health really means and how to reframe economic policy into something more compatible with climate action. Because many of the risk factors for global pandemics are also bad from a climate change perspective. Which makes this an especially important time to talk about degrowth. Because degrowth would mean less international travel, fewer work hours and commutes, relocalization of goods and services, and other changes that would reduce the spread of viruses like this.

Climate dieting in the age of coronavirus

I’m using this new coronavirus reality to set myself new challenges for my climate diet, and focus on things I’ve been doing half-heartedly the past few months. I’m diving back into some challenges I’ve done before, and adding a new one for my sanity:

If you’re just starting a climate diet, I recommend switching to reusable versions of so daily necessities. This is more convenient, saves money, makes you more resilient to the next global health crisis, and reduces your carbon footprint. Think about replacing:

  • facial tissues with handkerchiefs
  • tampons/sanitary napkins with a menstrual cup or washable pads
  • laundry detergent with a multi-use cleaner like Eco-Egg
  • disposable diapers with reusable diapers (these only lower your carbon footprint if you air dry them, btw)
  • paper napkins with cloth

Book and film tips

Finally, if you find yourself staying inside more thanks to coronavirus, here are my tips for climate-friendly books and films:

  • The Overstory: a great novel about trees and our relationship to them, and winner of the Pulitzer Prize
  • The Monkey Wrench Gang: my all-time favorite novel about the environment; a swashbuckling adventure of eco-terrorism
  • Tomorrow: my all-time favorite environmental documentary, which shares inspiring stories of people, groups, and businesses trying to build a more sustainable future
  • Die rote Linie: excellent documentary about the years-long fight to stop clear-cutting trees and towns for a coal mine in Western Germany; great to watch while/after reading either The Overstory or The Monkey Wrench Gang

Be my book buddy!!

The nonprofit organization Mein Grundeinkommen e.V. has invited supporters to read its book about guaranteed basic income and share it with others who don’t yet know much about or are even critical of this approach. I’ve ordered a copy to read in the next month and want to talk to YOU about it. Drop me a line at if you want to be my book buddy!