Social Sustainability - A reflection of COVID 19 vs Climate change

Updated: Sep 19, 2020

At the start of 2020, the biggest news is about #COVID19. From an unknown cause to the biggest virus outbreak striking people’s life, the global economy and social stability. Many events were cancelled. Many businesses were affected or even closed down. Many people stay in fear and uncertainty. On the other hand, masks, hand sanitizer, hand washer and many supermarket supplies are facing a severe shortage. The new confirmed cases and the death toll continue to rise. Once virus outbreaks are over, our lives will go back to #thenewnormal.

Together, it's interesting to bring up the fact of #ClimateChange. Climate disasters are taking many people's life and affecting global economy. Many events were held to deal with global warming. Many businesses were set up to fight for global warming. People stay in close observation. From our daily life, it took a while for countries to ban plastic usage, reduce the use of paper, and create carbon tax, etc. There were many channels set up to share knowledge. This will not be over. The only way is to slow down global warming.

Looking at these two aspects, they are some interesting commonalities worth comparing:

1. The impact

Virus attack hits everywhere as long as there are human beings, no matter which corner you live in the world, you have the chance to be affected by the virus. The severe virus may cause serious complications or even death.

Global warming affects certain types of cities: coastal cities are more likely to be affected by the flood, certain cities may experience unusual temperature or climate. The effect is more in the long-term than virus attack, and it's predictable by experts. Not all citizens may be affected, and there are ways to overcome these effects: for example, you may move away to neighbour cities if there is flood; you may change your lifestyle if there is an unusual climate.

2. People's behaviour

People react more drastically during the virus attack, therefore we see the severe shortage of face masks, hand sanitisers and supermarket goods. People rush to buy and stock up the goods due to the drastic feeling of uncertainty.

The change of behaviour responding to global warming is much slower. Government and business need to take initiative and implement policies to drive behaviour change. For example, supermarket starts to charge for plastic bags, government charge carbon tax. The government gives fundings, awards and grants for projects demonstrating sustainability approach. Even though, the commitment to reduce waste is still not as strong as wearing face masks and wash hands diligently.

3. Government action

During the virus outbreak, the government will implement travel restrictions, issue guarantee orders, and distribute face masks immediately. Hospitals and medical care facilities are setting a high priority for virus affected patience. Government also funds and support the medical research team to research for the treatment.

Under the concern of global warming, government's role is more as an influencer and supporter. Government implement tools and measurements to help companies and projects to be more sustainable.

4. Timeline

Virus attacks fast, it spreads fast, and it usually ends after several months or shorter depends on how easy the virus spread from human to human.

Global warming effects last for generations, the immediate timeline we are looking at is 2030, when we must control the temperature rise by 1.5 DegC, otherwise, the global temperature may reach the irreversible tipping point.

5. News and Media

During the Virus outbreak, we see daily news report and online live data tracking in every media platform. Scientist, governers, business representatives, celebrities, public figures are sharing their knowledge and efforts to fight for the virus. We see everybody reacts to the virus outbreak.

There are designated media platform relates to Global warming, and the media is reporting during significant events.


I'm sure there are more to compare, and more stories to share. More importantly, we are looking at what lessons we can learn from this comparison, and how we can adjust the sustainability initiative:

- People react more vulnerable when it affects the individual.

- People take action when there is an easy preventable solution, and they prefer doing more rather than doing less (e.g. washing hands more often rather than use less plastic bags).

- People follow and react faster under government initiatives.

- People react more to short term effects, rather than long term effects.

- Media effect lasts for only a certain period of time, it needs intensive and regular update to capture attention and provide long term behaviour change.


Special thanks to Laura Iturria Goyenechea for contributing to this article.

Disclaimer: the view expressed in this article are from joyofsustainability, it doesn't represent any entity.

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