By Katrina Ortman, Contributing Writer
// Fish swim in the eerily clear canals of Venice, Japanese sika deer wander into urban areas, and coyotes howl through San Franciscan streets. Reports of healthier air quality and reduced nitrogen pollution pour into the media from international scientists. While some embrace these events as a sign that the current global pandemic is “cleansing” the earth, that statement could not land farther from the truth.
To those keeping close tabs on the climate crisis, it is common knowledge that the crisis stems from flawed financial systems, centuries of colonialism, and deeply rooted racism. To others, the climate crisis is synonymous with global warming and the use of fossil fuels. As carbon emissions plummet in nations around the globe, it is understandable that people think COVID-19 is a “natural cure” for the planet, but this understanding is wrong.
Although global shutdowns due to COVID-19 positively impact the environment, these temporary changes result from tragic and unsustainable circumstances that will not end the climate crisis.
COVID-19 causes a humanitarian crisis that goes against the ethics of the climate movement. Just as many marginalized groups feel the brunt of the climate crisis, studies from Illinois, Michigan, and other states show that the disease disproportionately impacts communities of color with higher rates of poverty and disabilities. Immigrants in Moria, a Greek refugee camp holding four times as many people as it was built for, work tirelessly to prevent even a single case of COVID-19 from entering the camp, for the unhygienic conditions would cause it to spread― and kill― like wildfire.
To describe the disproportionate effect of COVID-19 on these already struggling groups as a “cleansing” is nothing but racism under the guise of activism. People with the privileges of steady incomes, job security, and healthcare should not be the only ones enjoying a healthy planet; that right belongs to everyone.
The quarantine lifestyle, although lessening humanity’s environmental footprint, is unsustainable in the long-term.
An estimated 20 percent of U.S. workers are currently unemployed, the highest percent since the Great Depression, and according to the economic news site “MarketWatch,” businesses laid off over 20 million people in a single month due to COVID-19. Shelter-in-place laws force cherished local businesses and artists to shut down and cancel events, taking away vital parts of communities and millions of jobs.
Society cannot afford to operate with a crippled economy and without nonessential industries forever, especially not once the pandemic is over.
Governments and health care organizations must continue to stop COVID-19 despite the short-term environmental positives for the sake of millions of jobs and lives. The question then arises of whether a positive effect on the environment even exists, and while it is an effect easier spoken of than realized, yes, yes there is.
Scientists and environment advocates are gaining invaluable information from the Earth under the shadow of COVID-19, and these insights reveal how society can permanently reverse the climate crisis.
Recent small achievements in the immense scope of the climate crisis result not from COVID-19 but from radical system changes and the prevention of normal capitalist systems from taking place. Minimized air travel, a hold on commuting, and production factory shutdowns significantly improved air quality in developed areas, confirming to the public what climate activists have preached for decades: the dangers of fossil fuels, consumerism, and western materialism.
Climate change deniers who have stuck behind nonrenewable energy sources, contributed to rampant consumerism, and denied sound science cannot argue against Mother Nature any longer. COVID-19 provides physical proof that wide-spread system change is the most effective method of fighting the climate crisis. Governments scraping together billions of dollars to fight COVID-19 proves that they have the money and authority to end the climate crisis. So long as society improves its systems in an ethical and sustainable way, unlike the changes during the COVID-19 pandemic, humanity will reverse the climate crisis.
However, if society returns to the old normal, mining for coal, burning rainforests, and buying the latest unnecessary product, humankind will have wasted all of the information gained through the pandemic.
COVID-19 offers a unique chance to rebuild economies and societies in a way that is better for the environment. We must continue to push governments to denounce fossil fuels and switch to clean energy, to support local businesses and artists, to reduce road and air traffic, and to use their power to save future generations. We have the chance to rebuild the world with a greener new normal, and it is time to let the old normal die with COVID-19.