As our response measures to COVID-19 increase day to day, we are seeing how ill prepared our deeply broken systems are in addressing the complex problems brought to light.
Credit: Ricardo Levins Morales
We have constant updates across our communities who are experiencing the many different impacts of this global pandemic. Never before has the connection between our local and global communities felt so present and clear, highlighting how our collective liberation is bound together.
The way we respond will not only define how we collectively survive this crisis, but also how we learn and prepare for future events with equitable solutions that meet the intersections of these experiences. Climate change is expected to release new pathogens into our world, and increase proximity to animals, insects, and other carriers of disease. More frequent and extreme natural disasters from changing weather patterns will create repeated emergency situations. Our systems of public health and economic safety nets require dramatic changes to meet these challenges.
Climate justice demands centering those most impacted. Public messaging around COVID-19 has emphasized a low risk to the majority of the population, leaving out those with compromised immune or respiratory systems or other underlying conditions that increase vulnerability. Messages tell communities to stay home—without offering guidance for folks unable to isolate who need to work or who depend on caretakers. Millions of people incarcerated and detained are unable to protect themselves. Those most vulnerable to impacts are often those with the least resources to sustain their families.
Climate justice demands economic justice. Our office is privileged that much of our work can be held remotely. Most workers can only do their job at their workplace, or students may eat only at school. Many people have to take leave, often unpaid, if they need care or provide care, or are forced to take leave if they travel or show symptoms, so will mask their pain because they need the next paycheck to make ends meet. Those who provide the most services that keep our communities running are often the most invisible and unsupported by safety nets when interrupted.
Climate justice demands we address the root causes of the issue. We live in a market of consumption and infinite growth but behave in a mentality of scarcity and individuality, hoarding goods and money for ourselves. We need an economy that respects the limits of production and utilizes regenerative and sustainable practices, with behavior echoing a mentality of bounty and generosity where we can give what we have to make sure all families have what they need in our interconnected world. Service providers are stretched thin providing basic goods to households in quarantine while others have stockpiled for nuclear winter.
Climate justice demands sweeping systemic reform. Some responses have proven that swift and radical change is possible, but we cannot rely on patchwork or impartial solutions. Our home city of Minneapolis requires employers to provide paid sick and safe time for workers, and the state of Minnesota has temporarily expanded unemployment benefits, but many are still left out. Minnesota requires all health providers to waive deductibles for COVID-19 testing and treatment, but health care access is still limited and doesn’t address underlying biases or ongoing health care beyond this virus. Two of our largest utilities have temporarily committed to provide continuous electric or gas services if customers are unable to make payments. Other places have provided relief with freezes on mortgage and student loan payments, protection against evictions for residential or small business leases, and emergency housing for homeless people. We are beginning to see the possibilities of another world taking shape.
With COVID-19, as with climate change, we must stand in solidarity with communities who know the barriers and solutions for this future. We must activate people who feel insulated from impacts, who have the health and financial resources able to withstand and adapt or recover from disaster. The pandemic, like climate change, causes greatest harm to those already hurt by social and economic disparities, those struggling alongside communities already displaced by rising waters and burning forests—who we must all join in support.
We must rise up to reject false solutions and demand justice.
We are called to action to value and support every member of our communities through this pandemic. Mutual aid networks have quickly risen to address the shortcomings in our systems and the wellbeing of our community members. As with the cold of winter, this too shall pass.
Find solace in nature, reconnect with the earth as we find signs of spring around us. Take care of each other.
This is only the beginning. We will need each other to make it through.