COVID-19 is alarm bell for climate change, more outbreaks may follow: science historian

If and when the pandemic ebbs, things will be far from normal. Nature has pulled the rug from under our feet, he says.

May 21, 2020 01:51 am | Updated 11:36 am IST - Kolkata

COVID-19 could well be nature’s warning against climate change because microbes are the first to ring an alarm and this could just be the first wave of the pandemic with bigger outbreaks likely to follow, according to science historian Rohit Gupta.

“Nobody in India seems to be concerned that a much larger problem is at hand: climate change. Isn’t it odd that the only thing helping us reduce carbon emissions globally — at the time we need that the most — is the coronavirus? What if this crisis is nature’s blessing in disguise?” Mr. Gupta, who graduated from IIT Kharagpur in chemical engineering and distinguished himself as a historian of science and mathematics, told The Hindu .

Interactive map of confirmed coronavirus cases in India

“The ecosystem on earth is made up of several layers, and insects occupy a place more important than us because they pollinate plants, which provide us food and oxygen. On the other hand, microbes are literally the bedrock which has regulated everything for billions of years: the atmosphere, the biome, the oceans and even the origin of species. They are the first to react to ecological changes,” said the Jaipur-based Mr. Gupta, who is also the author of the popular blog Compasswallah.

“Studies published in various journals, including one in Nature titled Scientists’ Warning to Humanity (2019), have emphasised the role microbes play in the emission and removal of greenhouse gases. So we can expect that if nature wants to warn us, it will do so through a micro-organism,” he said.

According to him, the current pandemic is not the real threat but simply a foreshadow of what is coming. “There are people worrying about the economy when they should actually be scared about ongoing mass extinctions of an entire spectrum of species that evolved much before us and helped humanity thrive,” he said.

“History shows that pandemics such as COVID-19 typically last for years, and come in recurring waves. The Spanish Flu of 1918, one of deadliest in history, was far more fatal in the second wave. It affected one-third of the global population and almost certainly altered the course of the ongoing First World War,” he said.

He said humankind should abandon its obsession with speed and if it wants to save the planet, should go back to pre-industrial modes of transport when and if travel becomes possible again. “There is no reason to believe that the current crisis will ebb anytime soon. And when it does, things will be far from normal. Nature has pulled the rug from under our feet,” he said.

The COVID-19 pandemic, Mr. Gupta said, was also likely to trigger political changes across the world, including India, because pandemics are known to do so. “The migrant crisis, which is one of the worst in history, is going to have far-reaching political effects too. History shows us that pandemics can start civil wars or end ongoing wars. This coronavirus has the power to even redraw geopolitical boundaries,” he said.

0 / 0
Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.