Lessons Learned from the Coronavirus for Climate Change

Lessons Learned from the Coronavirus for Climate Change

Date Published – January 24th, 2021

Girl looking into sunlight
With climate change threatening our way of life, what does the future look like?

Fresh on our minds is the traumatic and disruptive nature of this world’s fight to battle back Covid-19. The scientific and medical community agrees that this virus will prove to be ever present, and our world will have to continue to fight it in order to achieve some degree of normalcy. This disruptive event will usher in a new normal for our every day behaviors. Even years after a vaccine has seen wide distribution, we may still wear a mask at the grocery store, cease to greet each other by shaking hands, and keep hand sanitizers in our cars. There may be new industry standards such as HVAC units all incorporating HEPA filters, and blue lights coded to operate overnight to kill virus particles in the air inside of buildings. We do not yet know how our world will evolve over decades to come, thus far we’ve just focused on our immediate survival in this pandemic.

At the time of publication of this blog, complications resulting from COVID-19 is the leading cause of death in the United States and more lives have been lost in just under a year dealing with this virus than the entirety of American lives lost in World War II. The spectrum of engagement with this pandemic is broad and nobody can deny the impact it is leaving on the country and around the world.  To many, it still feels unreal, while essential workers and those who have lost loved ones continue to live through this nightmare. Faced with an unprecedented threat with this pandemic, world leaders, private business and organizations everywhere have shifted their full attention to defeating it. The response has been accelerated and well-publicized, with governments forced to take measures previously unheard of in order to deal with this new reality. There is certainly still more work to be done and unfortunately, the pandemic is only going to continue to get worse for the foreseeable future before it gets better. We are on the path now towards a return to normalcy with real solutions to this pandemic. In about a year after the first outbreak of the virus sent the city into a lockdown, Wuhan, China is beginning to come alive again thanks to strict virus control measures.

Now, let’s ask the question: what other issues can we solve with the same level of focus at every level of our communities worldwide?

One solution to Climate Change
We should care about climate change in the same way we care about the COVID-19 pandemic

Climate Change started to become a prominent political issue in our society around the Clinton-Gore Administration and in the decades since more attention has been paid to it. However, there are still huge leaps needed to place it on the forefront of everyone’s minds. The threat of Climate Change has recently gained political momentum but the sense of urgency needed only exists now with scientists and early adopters. We have not seen actions that reflect concern in our general society. On a longer timeline than the obvious, immediate threat that COVID-19 poses, climate change will have severe consequences for our world. We’ve begun to see the tangible effects of it with rising sea levels, increased temperatures and more frequent severe weather. The steps we’ve taken to combat the virus offer valuable lessons with which we can understand how best to engage the public in dealing with climate change as well.

Steps of Monumental Change

The World Health Organization (WHO) was the first organizing body to inform us of the SARS-COVID-19 coronavirus, and in mid-March of 2020, declare a global pandemic.   This red-hot alert was the moment where news media, governments and citizens of the world began to take it seriously.  They have led data efforts and have organized knowledge around its genome identification, and discovery of potential therapeutic treatment and ultimately, immunizations.   Employing over 7,000 people in over 150 countries, WHO was the largest influencer. Consider the cycle we’ve experienced as a public in the midst of this pandemic.

Education About Cause & Affect

The media reports every day on the latest events surrounding Covid-19. In the early days of the pandemic a deluge of information came from these reports about the origin of the virus, the latest knowledge of how it may be spread, the importance and efficacy of testing, and what protective measures could be taken. As the world learned more about the virus it became increasingly clear that one of the most effective ways to combat spread was mandating individuals wear masks and maintain a social distance of 6 ft. from one another. Educating the public as widely possible with these solutions was always going to be one of the most important ways to slow spread. Misinformation and conflicting reports from various media disagreeing with a mask mandate leads to further community spread. 

Triage Response

Until our scientific and medical communities provides a more permanent solution, the best we can do is focus on triage. We can wear masks, we can social distance from strangers and family alike, and we can order lockdowns within our communities all to slow spread. Manufacturers and pharmaceutical companies are activated to quickly come up with more permanent, more immediate solutions as quickly as possible.  State and federal governments regulated the appropriation of vital equipment for our most essential services, such as PPE, and vaccine research gets underway.

Long Term Solutions

The vaccine is one long-term solution, but at the time of this writing other solutions have yet to be realized but should not be precluded. Inoculation is the best way to eradicate disease. What other solutions may develop?  Will scientists discover ways to co-exist with these types of threats, rendering their effects on our human make-up minimal and non-life threatening?


Companies like Pfizer, Moderna, Ely-Lilly, BioNTech and carriers like United and FedEx have done remarkable work to get us to this phase in such a relatively short amount of time. Healthcare workers and first responders deserve the highest of praise for the sacrifices made thus far. Much has been written about the efficiency of vaccine distribution since the first vaccines received approval for wide distribution. The Department of Defense is participating in deployment and protection and security. As of this writing more shots are being distributed than are going into arms. A lack of a coordinated federal plan for distribution in the United States has lead to a situation in which individual states and communities are left to figure out the logistics of distribution on their own. There’s a bottleneck with hospitals unequipped for this distribution at the necessary scale, the indecision on who to prioritize, and the county-level mobilization of people to places where the vaccine is stored. Executive action with the incoming Biden administration has heavily focused on improving vaccine distribution plans. As we move into this phase of the pandemic in which the distribution rollout of vaccine dosages becomes the primary focus, we can hopefully begin to see a path soon approaching in which we can return to some semblance of normalcy.


Acceptance will come with education and leadership. From celebrities to trusted political leaders, the public is being encouraged to take the vaccine.  Local retail stores like Wal-Mart and CVS, every-day places you would normally go for a flu shot, are commissioned to distribute the vaccine.  The goal is to get American citizens to voluntarily receive the vaccine and engage in combatting community spread and create herd immunity.

Lessons Learned

What can our sustainability leaders learn from execution of this rapid cycle as it relates to combatting climate change?  Many industries, businesses and cities are already at the Distribution and Acceptance phase, while small and medium sized communities are still working on education. We applaud our global leaders while encouraging any community for incorporating sustainability into city planning. Though low-cost sustainability measures may resemble triage for the coronavirus treatment, if we work toward wide-spread community adoption, we are simultaneously working on the final phases – distribution of message and acceptance by its citizens. 

About HlpSum1: HlpSum1 is a sustainability consulting firm with a focus on supporting small communities. Derek Miller, author of this post, is a sustainability advocate supporting HlpSum1’s mission as a city and regional planning consultant. Derek has teamed up with HlpSum1 to research how leading organizations are approaching sustainability, and use proven business management techniques to create achievable sustainability initiatives for small communities beginning this journey. For more information, please visit www.hlpsum1.com/ for information about sustainability alignment strategies.

1 comment

Thanks Derek, nice work in writing this article and somehow it should be given to our leaders locally, state-wide and our national leaders. Great job.

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