The climate battle will be won or lost with the post-covid-19 recovery, says climate scientist Mark Maslin. Here’s what governments, companies and all of us can do right now

Earth 8 July 2020

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IT MIGHT seem bizarre that I’m talking about climate change when we’re all faced with a huge pandemic. But many of us believe that the bigger threat facing us is climate change. What I want to show is that by dealing with the impact of this pandemic, we can also deal with climate change. We can have win-win solutions.

The first thing to realise is that climate change science is really old. In 1856, the US scientist and feminist Eunice Foot took two glass tubes, put CO2 in one and normal air in the other, stuck a thermometer in each and left them out in the sunshine. She saw the one with CO2 heated up quicker, got hotter and stayed warmer for longer. It wasn’t much later that in London John Tyndall measured the “radiation effect”, the actual effect of heat absorption by gases in Earth’s atmosphere.

Just imagine you’re not in lockdown, but on a tropical beach. You feel hot. Sunlight hits your skin and converts to heat. That’s exactly what happens to Earth. As it radiates the sun’s energy back into space as heat, greenhouse gases grab some of it, hold on to it for a while, and then release back it into the atmosphere. If you took all the greenhouse gases out of our atmosphere, the temperature would drop by 35 degrees. The English winter would be about minus 30 Celsius, and the English summer, if you’re being generous, would be about minus 15. In that sense, greenhouse gases are a good thing.

But in 1938, the researcher Guy Callender looked at data …

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