Ramanathan: What Covid-19 Teaches Us about Social Justice and Climate Change

  • Veerabhadran Ramanathan, 2018 Tang Prize in Sustainable Development
A- | A+

Low-income countries could be the next to suffer destructive effects brought about the coronavirus outbreak, warned UC San Diego’s Prof. Veerabhadran Ramanathan, who won the Tang Prize in Sustainable Development in 2018. However, he also noted in an email to the Tang Prize Foundation that “looking at the positive side, it has taught us how the whole planet is interconnected.” Therefore, instead of “pointing fingers at each other,” we should work together in order to triumph over this global disaster. 


Faltering healthcare systems coupled with economic and political instabilities mean that many deprived countries could succumb to Covid-19 quicker than we can imagine. Such is an important lesson we should learn from this pandemic: how to seek social justice for the poorest 3 billion people on the planet. “It is clear physical-distancing (US calls it social distancing) is key to mitigating COVID transmission. This is possible for wealthy people like us; but how about the billions who live in slums, tiny apartments? If they cannot maintain distance and cannot afford masks etc., they will transmit the disease to the rest of the world,” Prof. Ramanathan argues in the email.    


Another issue we can’t afford to ignore is how global warming and climate change can encourage the spread of various diseases. “More directly,” he wrote, “global warming and climate disruption will spread Vector borne diseases (Zika, Chikengunya; others) globally everywhere. Too soon to say its impact on Corona virus. We must solve climate change before it is too late. We have 10 years maximum.” 


To achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050 and to limit global temperature increase to 1.5℃, Prof. Ramanathan urged the world to reduce the emissions of not only CO2 but also the so-called “super-pollutants,” such as black carbon, tropospheric ozone and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). “Speed must become the key measure of all climate mitigation strategies,” he pointed out in an op-ed published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, adding that “speedy deployment of mitigation actions and technologies” is required before we reach climate “tipping points.”


He reminded us in the email that “in climate change, if we don’t provide clean technologies to the poor, and they continue to use coal, wood etc., the resulting climate would harm all of us.” Therefore, “as a society, we need to pay attention to the welfare of the poorest three billion people to sustain the wellbeing of the rest of us.”


For the entire op-ed Prof. Ramanathan co-authored with Prof. Molina and Mr. Zaelke, please go to: https://reurl.cc/8GoDMd