Covid vs Climate

The pandemic has taken attention away from the climate crisis

The pandemic has taken attention away from the climate crisis

Mention the words “global crisis” in these turbulent times and most people’s thoughts turn immediately to the Covid-19 pandemic. But the planet and the world’s population was facing another, and according to experts, far greater crisis long before the coronavirus arrived – and that crisis has not gone away.

Despite the UK Government and many other governments declaring a climate emergency, and Sir David Attenborough amongst those saying that climate change represents a much greater threat to humanity than Covid-19, it is the pandemic that continues to dominate the front pages and television news reports. Now environmentalists and activists are voicing growing concerns that the climate is becoming a secondary issue and even slipping from public awareness.

Mark Carney, the former Governor of the Bank of England, and before that head of the Bank of Canada, is now United Nations envoy for climate action, and he has stated that the investment needed to avert millions of deaths is double the current rate. Governments are ploughing trillions into keeping economies afloat, but questions persist over whether the economic recovery as it develops will be as “green” as is necessary. Climate change factors were responsible for more deaths in 2020 than the coronavirus pandemic, and in a recent BBC interview, Mr Carney said that while there were parallels between the Covid-19 pandemic and climate change, damage to the environment and ecosystems has the potential to cause far more deaths. “When you look at climate change from a human mortality perspective it will be the equivalent of a coronavirus crisis every year from the middle of the century, and every year, not just a one-off event,” he said. “We cannot retreat and wait-out climate change, it will just get worse.”

During 2020, a year in which wildfires ravaged Australia and the American West, huge storms ripped through much of Asia and scientists warned of a future ice-free Arctic while a temperature of 20.7 Celsius was recorded in Antarctica and a 300 square kilometres iceberg broke off Pine Island Glacier, the climate conversation largely stalled in the UK and around the world. For many at home, those environmental catastrophes seem far distant and not our immediate concern. But there is no doubt whatsoever that without worldwide co-operation and concerted action, environmental disasters will spread across the globe at a cost of millions of lives.

What our surveys show

The claim that climate change claimed more lives than Covid-19 is backed up by facts and figures but in our latest poll on the issue, exactly half of those surveyed, 50%, said that Covid-19 is a greater threat to humanity than the climate crisis. While 35% believed the opposite, 6% answered that neither are a significant threat and 9% said they don’t know.

There was also a marked difference of views between men and women in this poll. While 42% of men said climate crisis is the bigger threat, only 28% of women agreed with that opinion. And while 42% of men thought that Covid-19 is the bigger threat, a much higher number of women, 58%, think the same way.

As with other issues in many of our recent polls, there are significant differences of opinion between Brexit, Leave and Remain voters, with only 20% of the overall figure saying climate change is the bigger threat being Leavers as opposed to 51% of Remainers. Turning the question around, 63% of the overall figure see Covid as the bigger threat while just 35% of Remainers feel the same way.


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