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One Lesson We Can Learn from COVID-19

One Lesson We Can Learn from COVID-19

By Nick McCreary, Director of Sustainability

COVID-19 will be a defining moment for this generation. The global response has been nothing short of astounding — from medical professionals working back-to-back-to-back 12-hour shifts to grocery workers staying up all night to stock the shelves. When faced with an existential threat, humans are amazing. Unfortunately, COVID-19 is not the last existential threat that this generation, and generations to come, will face.

Climate change is an existential threat that also needs to be addressed immediately. At the most basic level, global temperatures will increase as the amount of atmospheric greenhouse gases (GHG) increase. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has continuously warned that increased global temperatures will lead to everything from more frequent and intense natural disasters to sea level rise. All changes associated with climate change will have serious negative effects on human health and well-being (IPCC, 2018). To avoid the worst of these changes, global temperatures cannot increase by more than 1.5°C. In order to keep temperatures under 1.5°C, global GHG emissions must be cut by 7.6% per year at least through 2030. For the last hundred years, GHG emissions have risen by 1.5% per year (United Nations Environment Programme, 2019).

Sacrifices will need to be made by everyone in order to cut GHG emissions by 7.6% a year and these sacrifices will need to be made quickly. The global human response to COVID-19 is evidence that humans can respond to existential threats quickly and effectively. “Humanity is called to recognize the need for changes of lifestyle, production and consumption, in order to combat this warming or at least the human causes which produce or aggravate it” (Pope Francis, Laudato Si’, no. 23). Sustainable Creighton urges the campus community to take the lessons learned from COVID-19 to change habits so we can all better care for our common home. Here are the most impactful ways you can help lower global GHG emissions.

Eat Less Meat

Meat production, compared to other types of food, is responsible for more GHG emissions (Gerber et al., 2013), more pressure on freshwater resources (Mekonnen & Hoekstra, 2012), and more deforestation (Graesser, Aide, Grau, & Ramankutty, 2015). Decreasing meat consumption, especially red meat, is arguably one of the most effective ways to individually combat climate change. Going completely vegetarian overnight will probably not work for most. Start by eating a couple vegetarian meals a week. Challenge yourself and see how many vegetarian meals a week you can work up to.

Drive Less

The transportation sector is responsible for nearly a third (28%) of US GHG emissions. Over half of transportation emissions come from passenger vehicles (EPA, 2020). Those who live close enough to campus should consider walking or biking to campus. Both walking and biking produce zero GHG emissions and provide multiple health benefits. If biking or walking are not an option, consider carpooling.

Think About Your Purchases

If you need to buy something, consider the following decision-making hierarchy:

  1. Are you purchasing this item because you need it or want it? If a purchase is not needed, consider avoiding that purchase. Use your resources to create experiences, experiences are proven to make people happier than material purchases (Van Boven & Gilovich, 2003).
  2. If you need to make a purchase, shop second hand. Purchasing secondhand items avoids most GHG emissions associated with global supply chains.
  3. If you cannot purchase secondhand, purchase sustainably sourced and well-made products. There are sustainable substitutions for most materials. By choosing sustainable materials, you are are not only supporting a healthier planet but you are also supporting sustainable producers and supply chains. Purchasing well-made products that last longer will typically cost more upfront. However, you will save money and GHG emissions over the lifetime of the product compared to a poorly made alternative. “We need to reject a magical conception of the market, which would suggest that problems can be solved simply by an increase in the profits of companies or individuals.” (Pope Francis, Laudato Si’, no. 190).

The global response to COVID-19 has shown that it is possible for humans to quickly and effectively make sacrifices in the name of a healthier planet. Let us all use the lessons we are learning from COVID-19 to flatten the curve of climate change before it is too late. “All of us can cooperate as instruments of God for the care of creation, each according to his or her own culture, experience, involvements and talents.” (Pope Francis, Laudato Si’, no. 14).

Works Cited:

Francesco, P. (2015). Laudato si'. Edizioni piemme.

Gerber, P. J., Steinfeld, H., Henderson, B., Mottet, A., Opio, C., Dijkman, J., ... & Tempio, G. (2013). Tackling climate change through livestock: a global assessment of emissions and mitigation opportunities. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

Graesser, J., Aide, T. M., Grau, H. R., & Ramankutty, N. (2015). Cropland/pastureland dynamics and the slowdown of deforestation in Latin America. Environmental Research Letters, 10(3), 034017.

IPCC, 2018: Summary for Policymakers. In: Global Warming of 1.5°C. An IPCC Special Report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways, in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty [Masson-Delmotte, V., P. Zhai, H.-O. Pörtner, D. Roberts, J. Skea, P.R. Shukla, A. Pirani, W. Moufouma-Okia, C. Péan, R. Pidcock, S. Connors, J.B.R. Matthews, Y. Chen, X. Zhou, M.I. Gomis, E. Lonnoy, T. Maycock, M. Tignor, and T. Waterfield (eds.)]. World Meteorological Organization, Geneva, Switzerland, 32 pp.

Mekonnen, M. M., & Hoekstra, A. Y. (2012). A global assessment of the water footprint of farm animal products. Ecosystems, 15(3), 401-415.

United Nations Environment Programme (2019). Emissions Gap Report 2019. UNEP, Nairobi.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) (2020). Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks 1990-2018. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Van Boven, L., & Gilovich, T. (2003). To do or to have? That is the question. Journal of personality and social psychology, 85(6), 1193.