Climate Change and COVID-19: Parallel Crises

Erin Zipman is a high school senior on Long Island. She is looking forward to studying Communications and Environmental Studies in college, and to learn more about social justice. She has begun organizing with other young people in her community. With the help of Our Climate, Erin is excited to learn about her place in the environmental movement, how to take action and also elevate the voices of others. In her free time, she enjoys biking, reading, painting and drawing. 


 

As we stumble through this unprecedented coronavirus epidemic, there is an air of fear and uncertainty. This is especially apparent among the homeless population, as was highlighted in the March 19 article, ‘Homeless face difficulties avoiding exposure to coronavirus.’

COVID-19 is testing our resilience and unity as a society. We are seeing amazing community organizing, such as the work being done by PUSH Buffalo. People are reaching out to the vulnerable in their midst. But we also are also seeing the people who struggled the most before are struggling even more now...the impoverished, homeless, and food insecure. In times of crisis, the socioeconomic divisions between us are magnified. Some can afford to hunker down and weather this storm; some cannot.

Those who find themselves on the brink of survival right now are the same people who are most in danger in this era of climate change. They are the ones who tend to live near polluting industrial areas. They are the same people who are permanently displaced from their homes when intensifying storms and rising seas usher in floods. They are the ones who will lose, or have already lost, affordable access to nutritious food. These are the people who cannot afford to miss work because of illness, whether that be COVID-19, or respiratory issues from pollution, or a disease with increased geographic range because of rising temperatures, or heat stroke from the dangerously high temperatures that are becoming more frequent in more areas. 

The fears that many have about COVID-19 are the same fears that many of us also have about climate change.

One thing that the coronavirus has taught us, though, is that we have the ability to mobilize as a society. Restaurants like La Famiglia in Smithtown are giving away free meals to those in need. People are connecting over the Internet to support each other while in quarantine. Our government is moving funds to accommodate for lost wages and the healthcare crisis.

It has also taught us that we have the power to clean up the planet if we are willing to clean up our act. The water in Venice is clearing up and the amount of air pollution over Beijing has dropped significantly. The circumstances surrounding these developments are devastating; But perhaps going forward, some changes in the way we run our economy, industry, and lifestyle could allow humans to better coexist with nature. This is a critical moment for change. Are we going to have a resilient economic plan that prioritizes workers, healthcare, and the environment that our life depends on? Are we going to set conditions for the fossil fuel-emitting industries to scale back? Or are we going to bail out the polluters and leave our workers, our people, floundering in a rapidly declining environment?

During this pandemic, we are being told not to think of just ourselves, but about our society as a whole. People are self-quarantining. Neighborhood coalitions are looking out for the elderly. School districts are accommodating for the food insecure families. Solving climate change demands this same sort of fellowship; because climate change, like COVID-19, is a deadly crisis. But it is a crisis that we are evidently capable of handling, if we are only willing to work together for the greater good of life as we know it. 


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