How the Pandemic Could be a Crossroads for the Climate
Like millions of people, navigating the last few weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic has filled me with concern for the health and safety of our communities, as well as a sense of collective loss.
Some of these losses are tangible: loss of lives, jobs, economic security, human connection, normal routines. Other losses are more intangible: a sense of unknown, still-to-be identified future losses. Climate activists know this feeling well – it is what grief specialist David Kessler calls “anticipatory grief.”
Still, while we don’t know exactly how the cascading impacts of this pandemic will unfold, we’ve learned a few key things from the climate movement that can be helpful here. And vice versa; what we’re learning from this extremely challenging public health crisis could make this a watershed moment for climate change and an enormous opportunity for transformation.
The first and most important takeaway is that it’s time to shift to a culture of preparedness.
Over the past few weeks, we’ve shown how we can come together as a society, acknowledge our interconnectedness and take necessary and painful steps to protect ourselves against this virus. For those who are fortunate enough to have their basic needs met, the forced slowdown of Governor Newsom’s stay-at-home order provides an opportunity to ask: how can we use this moment as a catalyst to protect the long-term health and well-being of all people against the existential threats of a dangerously warming climate?
In CEC’s climate resilience work, we’ve learned that the most important strategies to protect ourselves from climate-related impacts aren’t sea walls or brush removal or evacuation plans. Although these may be critical in the near-term, the true measure of a community’s resilience is its social connectivity, its willingness to take on long-term challenges together, in solidarity with one another. So even as we’re practicing “physical distancing,” it’s more important than ever to acknowledge our social fabric—to lean in and ensure that everyone is cared for and prepared to weather this immediate crisis.
The key phrase here is everyone is cared for. If we can nail that, it will be our climate change superpower.
The second takeaway is that we have everything we need to move forward on the climate crisis.
The know-how to flatten the curve of greenhouse gas emissions exists just as it does for the coronavirus. Unlike the virus, which has a lot of unknowns, we know exactly what to do when it comes to the climate crisis, and we have the tools to do it. Stop burning fossil fuels and invest deeply in a green stimulus to transition to renewable sources of energy. Significantly reduce our consumer addictions. Shift from factory farming to sustainable forms of growing our food. Treat nature as a limited and utterly essential resource. Engage everyone.
What’s more, the Central Coast region has everything we need to survive and thrive as an equitable, sustainable community. This includes abundant sun and wind energy, vibrant agriculture and fisheries, a rich history of environmental awareness and social justice, strong safety net organizations, solid planning and building practices, and a community that’s proved itself, over and over, to be one that’s generous in spirit and willing to step up to take care of each other.
The third takeaway is that business as usual is over.
Like other crises in our lifetimes, we will be forever changed by the massive public health, economic and social impacts of COVID-19.
We are experiencing a heartbreaking amount of personal and societal suffering, and the most vulnerable populations (essential workers, immigrant communities, communities of color) are set up to bear the brunt of the impacts, just as with climate change.
But within all this are seeds for potential transformative change, in areas where we have desperately needed it. Game-changing drops in emissions in the transportation sector as people telecommute and air travel plummets. A real-time exercise in social responsibility for the good of public health. A spotlight on low-paid front line workers who are risking their own health to provide essential services. Awareness of the fragility of a highly globalized food system – as well as the importance of local farms, fisheries, restaurants, food service employees and agricultural workers.
Over the next few months, CEC will be exploring how, together with you, we can turn a cataclysm into a catalyst moment for how we address the impacts and systemic roots of climate change in our region. We’ll be gathering ideas, resources, and calls to action on a new webpage, and sharing regular updates on our work. (If you have not yet reflected on the parallels between the coronavirus pandemic and the climate crisis, check out these pieces in the New York Times and LA Times.) This moment is calling us to strengthen our resilience and evolve together. I look forward to continuing the conversation with you.