COVID-19: Dress Rehearsal


This is the Moment to Turn It Around

The apocalyptic fever COVID-19 brought to our lives is just a glimpse of what climate change threatens. Immersed in the gravest health crisis of our lifetime, we watch with alarm what each day brings. Many are preoccupied with the minute we can rush back to life before COVID-19. The central question in response to the virus is the very question central to the climate crisis. Can our culture choose health and well-being over maximizing profit? Public response to COVID-19 showed us the overwhelming answer is YES. Despite being guided by an administration skeptical of science and hyper-focused on the economy, public opinion made clear that choosing health over the economy was the only option. Like the coronavirus, climate change will disrupt every part of our lives with an even greater relentlessness

Yet, the devastation from the COVID-19 is a minor blip compared with climate destabilization. Already it threatens our food supply, fuels wildfires, raises ocean levels, increases extinction events, destroys habitats, causes deforestation, floods, and droughts. All of which have deadly consequences. If left unchecked it will spawn more diseases in plants, in animals, and in us. In this scenario there would be no hope for a magical vaccine, only the bleak reality of what we have created. Amazon cannot deliver food to the door if there is no food to deliver. College students can’t convene for Spring Break when sea levels have covered the beaches and are sweeping away buildings. COVID-19 has taken over 100,000 people, a staggering number. But it’s a tiny number compared with what disrupted global eco-systems will bring.

Crises bring opportunity and this one’s no different. COVID-19 pulled back the curtain revealing with brutal honesty the social inequities of poverty, homelessness, and risk for disease in vulnerable populations. We’re shocked how many pay a deathly price for the privileged few. Ironically, we see the benefits in staying home. We’re asking ourselves questions we’ve never asked before. What do we really need? What’s most important to us? Who is most important to us? Will there be enough food? We’re also having new insights. We’ve paused long enough to feel gratitude for what we have. We’re forced to understand just how important other people are to us, as we imagine the grief of losing them. The crisis gives us hope we might unite as a community again, and we’re appalled many are forced into life threatening situations because of class or color. It’s become clear we can do business with remote partners without hopping on an airplane. We question our endless pursuit of work at the expense of the quality of our lives. Families are spending meaningful time together and have a greater appreciation of being in the natural world, to exercise, go for a walk, or to feel the sun on their face. As the world has sequestered itself indoors, images from space are proof that staying at home has drastically improved our atmosphere. If you look up at the night sky you can see that it is cleaner and clearer, revealing that even a momentary break from the unrelenting onslaught of carbon emissions can make a difference. There are fish returning to normally polluted waterways and you can even see to the bottom of the canals in Venice. It’s a glimpse of how quickly our planet can recover if we make the right choices.

Our economy is having the largest decline we’ve ever experienced. That same economy is used as the scapegoat by our leaders for why we can’t make changes that will alter the trajectory of the climate crisis. That same robust, unstoppable economy was upended by a virus in a few short weeks. We see with startling clarity the economy is as vulnerable as we are. We’ve valued money over our own well-being because we thought our well-being demanded it. We never realized that the economy is just an extension of us. If we’re already taking a financial hit, this is the greatest chance we will ever have to change it into the dream of one that supports people, the planet, and profit. Instead of rushing back to life as we knew it, let’s stop and think about the world we want to create instead. Is it possible to put people back to work while supporting our well-being and respecting our citizenry? Can we have conversations in our workplaces about energy conservation, local food production, public transit, land management, and non-toxic materials? Can we make them the priority? Can we turn failed businesses into ones that support our health and well-being instead of robbing from it? This is our chance. The government isn’t rushing to save us; we must save ourselves.

The virus is an invitation to think about what we really want and need. Is our best vision of what the world can be running back to what was? Most of the people alive in the U.S. today have never lived through a crisis like this. It’s a reality check. It shows us that we’re undeniably a part of the natural world, and how vulnerable we really are. We’re not at the top of a food chain; we are a part of an eco-system and must function within it or perish. This is our opportunity to turn this huge problem around. The climate crisis feels more abstract than COVID-19 but will deliver a wallop that will hurt each of us severely and will make this pandemic seem like a garden party. The world is calling on us to change: this is the dress rehearsal for a much larger crisis. Our test will be… can we make our health and well-being the priority over economic gain?