Coronavirus and Climate Justice
by Cybelle Shattuck

In the midst of this pandemic, while home-bound and spending (too much) time online, people are excitedly sharing videos of nature “recovering” in the absence of humans. We marvel at majestic mountains unobscured by air pollution and delight at wild animals romping through towns. Our hearts lift—we feel hope that the planet can heal. Headlines proclaim the decrease in carbon emissions a “silver lining”; perhaps the pandemic will slow climate change.

Sadly, this short-term emissions hiatus will not prevent climate change. The carbon already in the atmosphere will be there for centuries; the climate crisis will continue. Nor is freezing the global economy a viable long-term mitigation strategy. But maybe there are aspects of this moment that can inform our climate action going forward.

How encouraging to see that people can dramatically change behavior when they feel motivated! And that people do listen to scientists. In spite of conflict stories favored by click-bait obsessed media, people stay home if they can and use protective gear in public. We also see the power of community in the emergence of mutual aid societies, new methods of distributing school food aid, volunteer mask sewing, and support for artists.

But the very necessity for such generosity makes visible the failures of our society. The virus is decimating impoverished communities where bodies are burdened by pollution from industries that provide goods for wealthier citizens. We hail as “essential” those who produce food, care for elders, and staff retail establishments, but treat their labor as low-value and, therefore, not deserving of a living wage or paid sick leave.

Covid-19 reveals inequities we usually manage to ignore. And it forces us to recognize that the health and welfare of all people matter, not only because of basic morality, but also because disruptions in one part of our community affect every part of our society.

I do not want to go back to “normal,” to a society that failed to care for people and planet. This corona time is an opportunity to figure out how to combine climate action with justice, to create a society in which all people are treated with dignity and have access to clean air, affordable nutritious food, and safe homes, schools and workplaces.

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