For many of us tapped into the climate change movement, much of what has happened in the last few weeks has felt eerily recognizable. This is because in many ways we are seeing a crisis unfold similar to what experts have spent decades predicting: a global health and economic emergency punctuated by a strain on the physical world, poor leadership, and inequity. The coronavirus pandemic is on a strikingly similar course to that charted for climate change. It is critical that we pay attention to these similarities and what we might learn from them.
In his 2012 New York Times article, Jim Robbins described disease as a symptom of the breakdown of nature and warned against human disruption of the natural world. Our interconnectedness with one another and disconnectedness from nature was driving the spread of zoonotic infections, he said. Eight years later, this current coronavirus outbreak seems to highlight this dissonance between humans and nature as communities are rendered vulnerable by forces largely out of their control.
As with the climate crisis, national and global leadership has been slow to acknowledge and quick to undermine the scientific facts and risks of the coronavirus pandemic. Climate scientist Kim Cobb warned that “both demand early aggressive action to minimize loss,” and yet both crises have thus far been characterized by dramatic failures to act.
This coronavirus response has exacerbated the vulnerability of those most at risk of falling dangerously ill— just as experts warn that climate change has and will most impact many of those same populations. Furthermore, those groups affected by the coronavirus stretch across nations and even oceans, indiscriminately reaching across the globe, just as climate activists have warned of the growing reach of climate events. Even the collapse of the oil and gas industry that climate activists have called for seems to be playing out as oil prices hit unprecedented lows amidst global uncertainty around the economic effects of the COVID-19 crisis.
Before us is a crisis of unprecedented magnitude and life has abruptly ground to a halt. This is reminiscent of the moment of awakening that many in the climate world had been calling for, and yet while the symptoms may be strikingly similar, the disease is quite different. Combatting the coronavirus requires immense collective action and global coordination. Consequently resources have and will continue to be drawn away from the climate change fight—a concession that feels defeating particularly in the face of these striking parallels. Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org and climate activist, describes his frustration with this pause at such a critical time for the movement in his recent column.
In shuttering much of the economy, taking a collective turn inwards, and even slowing climate action, however, there is reason to have hope. We are standing at a critical moment, with a clear view of what a truly global crisis looks like in scale and severity. We have the gift of time to recharge, regroup, reinvigorate, and act to prevent another crisis of this magnitude.
In the spirit of this hopefulness, we have collected in this list some of the most powerful actions that we can take today for the health of the planet and ourselves going forward.
1. Take activism digital
With much of the world going online, the climate movement is similarly going virtual. Greta Thunberg called on her followers to join the #DigitalStrike by posting pictures of themselves with signs and using the hashtag #ClimateStrikeOnline. In a recent tweet, she wrote, “We young people are the least affected by this virus but it’s essential that we act in solidarity with the most vulnerable and that we act in the best interest of our common society.” The Sunrise Movement similarly encouraged its coalition to avoid mass gatherings and, in the meantime, innovate digitally, especially encouraging its people to support one another using its phone banking service, People’s Dialer. While digital activism might not have the same history of success as mass physical gatherings, this crisis offers young leaders the opportunity to write a new chapter in the history of social movements. Young leaders are already showing that they are well-equipped for this challenge by rethinking Earth Day plans and Fridays for Future protests.
2. Make calls and write letters to political and social leaders encouraging climate-friendly policies
Use this time to engage with your local leaders, through phone calls and letters, to encourage them to support climate-friendly policies. Recovering from this crisis will take government support and communities can encourage their leaders to prioritize climate and energy issues in those plans. On March 20th, Bill McKibben tweeted “Congress: don’t waste this chance. If you’re going to bail out corporations, in return demand that they take serious climate action. We could actually work on both crises at once!” Furthermore, as the November elections rapidly approach, this time represents a good opportunity to support and engage with candidates who similarly support climate-friendly policies.
3. Slow down and spark conversation
The coronavirus pandemic has made glaringly evident just how deeply inequity is woven into each of our communities. In pausing our routines, we have the opportunity to slow down and rethink how our systems must change in order to protect and support people through other crises of this magnitude. We have the time to rethink the climate movement, reach across the aisle, and be innovative about inclusion. This pause presents a unique opportunity for the climate movement to recalibrate with a renewed focus on justice.
4. Support local businesses and local environmental justice, climate-focused NGOs in your community
Look to support local businesses and organizations that are actively engaged in the climate space. Many organizations are working to support communities most vulnerable to both the coronavirus and the climate crisis.
5. Go outside (while maintaining social distancing)
Being outdoors can be incredibly restorative both physically and mentally. If the collections of walkers, runners, and dogs in the streets and the sense of comradery among neighbors gathered on their respective porches and yards are any indication, the value of fresh air is becoming critically apparent. This time of quiet and restoration in the outdoors can also help to reignite our appreciation for nature and all that it does for us. It can remind us of the resilient planet that we must fight for.