Pandemics and climate change are two sides of the same deadly coin

A major holiday season downer appeared close to Christmas in the form of the Omicron Covid variant. As populations sunk back into feeling even more burnt out and bummed out, with resilience and patience being severely tested, one would think that concerns over climate change would slip away.

Not so, based on the number of people searching Google news and web sites about both the current pandemic threat and global warming. Indeed, as Google Trends showed over a week-long period, interest in both the pandemic and climate change moved in a correlated lockstep pattern. As searches for pandemic news rose over seven days, so did searches for information about the pandemic.

This interconnectivity of the pandemic and global warming in terms of searching for answers is perhaps revealing. It may be showing that, intuitively, our atavistic survival senses are alive to fears of the survival of our immediate health and our planet. An urgent alarm bell is going off, revealing a confluence of chaos that our trained logical, and compartmentalized thinking processes has trouble incorporating. And yet, out gut instinct drives us to seek more about the intertwined threats in our searches for information.

Science is now giving credence to our perceived connection between pandemics and global warming.

The Harvard School of Public Health states that “We don’t have direct evidence that climate change is influencing the spread of COVID-19, but we do know that climate change alters how we relate to other species on Earth and that matters to our health and our risk for infections. Many of the root causes of climate change also increase the risk of pandemics.” (https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/c-change/subtopics/coronavirus-and-climate-change/).

Rolling Stone magazine reports that, “The reasons for this new era of pandemics are complex, but as Drs. Fauci and Morens point out, one of the main drivers is the climate crisis, which is shaking up the natural world and rewriting disease algorithms on the planet. Thawing permafrost in the Arctic is releasing pathogens that haven’t seen daylight for tens of thousands of years.” https://www.rollingstone.com/culture/culture-features/climate-change-risks-infectious-diseases-covid-19-ebola-dengue-1098923/.

The World Health Organization reports that “Today, worldwide, there is an apparent increase in many infectious diseases, including some newly-circulating ones (HIV/AIDS, hantavirus, hepatitis C, SARS, etc.). This reflects the combined impacts of rapid demographic, environmental, social, technological and other changes in our ways of-living. Climate change will also affect infectious disease occurrence.” https://www.who.int/globalchange/climate/en/chapter6.pdf.

The interconnectivity of pandemics and climate change presents many new challenges to our way of thinking. Humans too often like to compartmentalize issues and especially immediate threats. Our efforts at strategic planning often approach the future with linear and deterministic thinking. We too address major issues in a siloed fashion. In my experience and research with many organizations, there is too often a blindness to not only the interconnectivity of external environmental forces such as climate change, the economy, technology, and societal values but the direct impact on internal organization environments such as culture, structures, systems, and the workplace climate.

Today, rightfully so, decision-makers are focused on the Omicron variant and the confounding fact that we feel a sense of powerlessness and the unknown, the two drivers of fear. We predictably have a laser focus on pandemic threats and solutions. The danger is that this tunnel vision may distract policy makers from maintaining a priority on what appears to be a contributing factor to deadly pandemics, and that is our industrial disregard for the health of the planet, which is inextricably intertwined with out human health.

As we see the synchronous trend of fear over pandemics and climate-change track across Google search engines, we must accept that our two greatest threats to human existence and this planet are intertwined. Our sense of survival must accept that one is not more of a priority than the other. The danger is that this is exactly what may happen. Past experience with Covid-19 often saw politicians, business leaders, and the general citizenry place a need for a thriving economy and access to socialization and entertainment over the need of a healthy populace. And now, with the seeming exponential attack of yet another scary variant, the opinion that pandemics and climate change are interconnected are in danger of becoming bifurcated with diseases taking priority.

The tragic reason is simple. Pandemics can kill you, your family and friends. There is no place to hide. To quote a provincial health official in British Columbia (December 17, 2021), “pandemics live to infect, and infect to live, and they are hunting you.”

Global warming, even with recent devastations caused by flood, fires, and landslides are tragic but still an abstract notion for too many. We are simply not afraid enough. In a global survey released in late 2021, the Edelman Special Report: Climate Change reported that 65% of the public agreed that “I don’t know a lot about climate change solutions” and over half (55%) agreed that they “don’t know a lot about climate change” at all.

If we are truly to save ourselves and this planet we better understand that climate change and pandemics are two sides of the same deadly coin.

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