I recently read an opinion article in the local paper arguing – rightly – that climate change is a much greater threat than the pandemic. But unfortunately it lead off by saying that climate change caused the pandemic:

Scientists have long told us to be much better prepared for a massive global pandemic. We caused it. Too many people are making unsustainable demands on the limited resources of this planet (a.k.a. overshoot). Our current pandemic arises from massive deforestation, habitat fragmentation and increased urbanization.

I was surprised to read this because I’m an avid science reader and I’ve never read anything to indicate that climate change would cause a pandemic illness. Certainly many other health problems, but not a pandemic. The article didn’t cite any sources so I can’t verify based on that, but I have done my own quick search and found that there’s no connection.

For example, Scientific American article, Climate Change and Infectious Diseases from April 9, 2020, by Arthur Wyns, a climate change advisor to the World Health Organization (WHO), says:

There is also no evidence that climate change made the emergence or transmission of COVID-19 more likely.

In terms of scholarly articles, I just did a quick scan of the results of searching Google Scholar for “climate change pandemic” and I don’t see any articles that clearly link the two.

  • Carlson, Colin J., Eric R. Dougherty, and Wayne Getz. “An ecological assessment of the pandemic threat of Zika virus.” PLoS neglected tropical diseases 10.8 (2016).:

    most notably, the role of climate change in Zika’s expansion has not yet been thoroughly investigated.

  • Curseu, Daniela, et al. “Potential impact of climate change on pandemic influenza risk.” Global Warming. Springer, Boston, MA, 2010. 643-657.:

    The evolution of these viral diseases was probably not directly affected by climate change. … However, for global warming, there has not been any evidence to show that it makes human influenza pandemics more likely.

This is just a quick scan, but it leads me to think that there isn’t a scientifically validated connection.

As a climate change activist, I think it’s most important to always maintain a faithfulness to the science, because science is the best way that humans have developed to find the truth, and science is how we know the climate crisis is real. So I think it’s particularly important that climate change activists are faithful to the science even if that weakens the argument.

There is still a strong connection between pandemic and climate change, because the COVID-19 response shows that we can collaborate globally to fight a global crisis, and so it’s a good dry run for more intense climate action. Like many, I hope that we can build on this and pivot from pandemic into full-on climate crisis mode.