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Social Sustainability - A reflection of COVID 19 vs Climate change

Updated: May 21, 2023

The start of 2020 was dominated by the emergence of COVID19, an initially unknown virus that quickly escalated into a major global outbreak, drastically impacting people's lives, the world economy, and societal stability. Numerous events were cancelled, businesses suffered or were forced to close, and people lived in a state of fear and uncertainty. Consequently, supplies such as masks, hand sanitizers, and basic supermarket goods faced severe shortages. As the number of confirmed cases and deaths continued to rise, our lives adjusted to a new normal once the outbreaks were over.

Simultaneously, the ever-pressing issue of Climate Change continued to demand attention. Climate disasters have claimed many lives and significantly impacted the global economy. Events were organized, and businesses were founded to combat global warming. Despite slow responses from countries to ban plastic use, reduce paper consumption, and introduce carbon taxes, knowledge was shared across numerous channels. The fight against climate change will never end; the goal is to slow down global warming.

When comparing these two crises, some intriguing similarities emerge:

1. The impact

The viral attack was indiscriminate, affecting any corner of the world inhabited by humans, with severe cases potentially leading to serious complications or death.

In contrast, global warming affects specific areas, like coastal cities vulnerable to flooding or regions experiencing unusual temperatures or weather patterns. The effects are longer-term and predictable, and not all citizens may be affected. There are ways to mitigate these effects, such as relocating from flood-prone areas or adapting lifestyles to changing climates.

2. People's behaviour

The reaction to the virus was drastic, leading to significant shortages of essential items due to panic buying and stockpiling.

Responses to global warming have been slower. Governments and businesses must take the lead and implement policies to drive behavior change. Despite these efforts, commitment to waste reduction has not matched the widespread adoption of practices like wearing masks and frequent handwashing.

3. Government action

Governments responded swiftly to the virus, implementing travel restrictions, issuing stay-at-home orders, distributing masks, and prioritizing healthcare for those affected. They also funded research into treatments.

In contrast, governments act more as influencers and supporters in the fight against global warming, implementing tools and measures to help businesses and projects become more sustainable.

4. Timeline

Viral outbreaks occur quickly, spread rapidly, and usually end within months, depending on the ease of human-to-human transmission.

The effects of global warming, however, persist over generations. The immediate goal is to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C by 2030 to prevent reaching an irreversible tipping point.

5. News and Media

The virus dominated news and media coverage, with daily reports and live data tracking. Everyone from scientists to celebrities shared knowledge and efforts to combat the virus.

Global warming coverage is more sporadic, usually tied to significant events.


Through this comparison, we can identify lessons to inform sustainability initiatives:

  • People are more responsive when their individual well-being is affected.

  • People act when presented with straightforward preventative solutions, and prefer to do more of something than less (e.g., washing hands more often instead of using fewer plastic bags).

  • People respond quickly to government initiatives.

  • People react more to immediate threats than long-term ones.

  • Media effects are temporary, requiring consistent updates to maintain attention and drive long-term behavior change.


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

Disclaimer: Please note, the views expressed in this article are solely those of joyofsustainability and do not represent any other entity.

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