Want to ensure the impact of COVID-19 on the environment slows climate change? Then be sure to vote, a top environmentalist tells a News Decoder webinar.

COVID-19,climate change
Tom Burke (upper left) leads webinar on COVID-19 and climate change.
By Dylan Carlson-Sirvent

What can young people do to ensure that sacrifices made around the world during the COVID-19 pandemic will translate into action to fight climate change?

“Vote is the first thing you do,” Tom Burke, founder of the climate change think tank E3G, told a News Decoder webinar last week.

Students from Pace Academy in the United States and Gimnasio Los Caobos in Colombia joined Burke on camera during the hour-long session that addressed the question of whether the world’s experience with the SARS-CoV-2 virus will accelerate a green transition and have a salutary effect on the environment.

Lockdowns around the world this year, imposed to slow the spread of the virus, have put a lid on carbon emissions as people cut back on travel, resort more to bikes and work from home. The result? In many cities, residents are enjoying clear, blue skies instead of smog, less noise pollution and encounters with animals that usually stay away from streets.

COVID-19 could help people cut their carbon footprint.

Two polls taken during the webinar, while hardly scientific, suggested that those participating in the session, either on- or off-camera, believe that environmentally-friendly behaviors during the COVID-19 pandemic such as less frequent travel will help curb global warming. In one poll, all respondents said the pandemic will induce them in the future to cut down their own carbon footprint.

Burke was the latest expert to lead a series of News Decoder webinars on COVID-19. Health journalist Maggie Fox led the first session in late March, warning that the disease will take months before it is brought under control.

In the second webinar in April, students from Westover School and School Year Abroad Spain joined therapist Pat Spencer in identifying mental health challenges of COVID-19 and shaping a strategy for coping with the stresses and strains – today and tomorrow.

Burke, a professional environmentalist for 30 years who coined the term “green growth” in 1987, warned that many politicians will want to jump-start their countries’ economies as the pandemic wanes in hopes of returning to the environmental status quo. The adviser to Rio Tinto urged young people to become politically engaged.

“If you’re 24 and you don’t vote, tough,” Burke said. “It’s your future.”

COVID-19 has helped youth understand climate change.

Without cooperation, Burke said the world will not solve global warming. “It took my parents’ generation two world wars to learn that lesson,” he said. “The pandemic is a wake-up call.”

No matter how economies react in the short term when the pandemic ends, the writing is on the wall for fossil fuel companies, and they will eventually disappear, Burke said.

“I think there’s going to be a huge drive to take advantage of the fact that we need to restructure our economy in a greener way,” he said.

Pace student Rekha Sashti told the webinar she thinks the pandemic has raised awareness about climate change. “The pandemic brought to light climate change in a way that I think young people like us are focusing on more,” she said. “It’s given us much more responsibility than we could have expected.”

Fellow Pace student Tommy Assaf said the lockdown has shown people that there are more sustainable ways of living. “People can live a full life without traveling across the world,” he said. “How much we can accomplish once something bad happens shows what we can also do for climate change.”


  1. How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected the environment?
  2. Why did Tom Burke urge young people to vote if they want to fight climate change?
  3. Will the COVID-19 pandemic induce you to reduce your carbon footprint in the future?

COVID-19,climate changeDylan Carlson-Sirvent is an intern at News Decoder. He currently lives in Paris, where he is learning French and taking guitar classes. Carlson-Sirvent will start his university studies at Yale College later this year. He loves reading, playing music and learning languages.

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Environment Will COVID-19 help the fight against climate change?