How coronavirus impacts climate change and the US housing market

I'm a big fan of Spotify's Daily Drive playlist, which is basically just Algorithmic Radio that delivers a custom mix of news and music based on my listening habits. That's how I ended listening to a podcast briefing from MarketWatch, warning about the negative impact that coronavirus is having on the luxury real estate market in the United States.

Local realtors in big cities like New York and San Francisco depend heavily on foreign investors (20 percent of whom are Chinese nationals) to buy up their inventory of recently-constructed overpriced luxury condos. And then those apartments just … kind of … sit there vacant, increasing the demand for housing and causing property values to rise, forcing out working-class families who can't afford to live in that (again, largely unoccupied) area, which spreads out the range of the greater metro areas, increasing commuter congestion and creating more opportunities for real estate investors to build more luxury condos in more remote areas to accommodate this artificially-inflated demand, which continues to be good for people who work in real estate and for foreign investors but for absolutely nobody else.

Except now, those foreign investors aren’t buying up properties as quickly as they used to, because they can't travel to the States to close the deal. And that's bad. For the economy, I mean. Or at least, for the handful of people who have been fortunate enough to profit while everyone else is slapped with higher rents and longer commutes.

But this information was of course presented with no sympathy for those who are affected by coronavirus, or by the housing crisis. In other words, MarketWatch indirectly endorsed the idea that a pandemic can be used to reduce wealth inequality, with no sense of irony or self-awareness. Because why try to grapple with complex issues when there's a tiny violin just waiting to play for those who are healthy and wealthy?

Similarly, Time published an article about the way that factory closures in China due to coronavirus have lead to a significant drop in carbon emissions:

One of the deadliest epidemics in decades has dented energy demand and industrial output in China, cutting carbon dioxide emissions by about 100 million metric tons—close to what Chile emits in a year.

A new analysis by the climate nonprofit Carbon Brief found that the widespread impact of the virus—including travel restrictions, longer holidays, and lower economic activity—means that neither has recovered from the usual lull around the Chinese New Year, a roughly two-week festival that began this year on January 25.


The reduction in emissions is mostly a result of lower output from oil refineries and lower coal use for power generation and steel-making, as China’s government struggles to control the epidemic.

What at first glance sounds like a win for climate action also comes at a cost of nearly 2,500 lives, with more than 50,000 actives cases of coronavirus out there as of this writing (the flu kills between 6 and 30 times as many people each year, according to the CDC).

The Time article doesn't go all the way to "Thanos was right" territory, as it does point out that even if China maintained this reduced rate of carbon output for a full year at the continued cost of human lives, it would account for about 1 percent of the country's total emissions.

I learned all of this in the course of an hour or so. And it felt very much like a case of "Be careful what you wish for." The housing crisis, global health, and climate change are all huge problems that will continue to have a major impact on the our shared futures. We should acknowledge that, and address them with greater urgency than we have been. But there has to be a better solution than spreading a pandemic, and frowning at the ways it hurts the wealthy.

Empty Cities and Stalled Industrial Production, New Analysis Shows Coronavirus Has Cut China's Carbon Emissions by 100 Million Metric Tons [Akshat Rathi and Jeremy Hodges / Bloomberg / Time]

‘There’s a lot of uncertainty and fear.’ Coronavirus is making it harder for some Chinese investors to buy U.S. real estate [Jacob Passy / MarketWatch]

Image via Pexels (Public Domain)