Yesterday's 50th anniversary of Earth Day is unique — our world is being turned upside-down and inside-out by the coronavirus. Is Mother Earth sending us a message?
Are we listening? Perhaps you found reasons to celebrate this Earth Day — it is spring — and birds, bees, and blossoms have returned.
So, what is coming now?
Read our new guest blog post below, “One Hot Health Mess: Crisis or Crises?” which considers whether there is a shred of silver lining to be found within our currently dark clouds.
One Hot Health Mess: Crisis or Crises
We Are Really in It Now
Jean Arnold: Corona Planet!
Despite lovely spring flowers bursting forth, storm clouds have gathered. An overarching, all-consuming crisis has gripped us…..we are now in a global emergency, with a shared threat to all of humanity. Millions, if not billions of people would be threatened if the crisis were to unfold unimpeded. It is not an exaggeration to say that we are all threatened.
The crisis reminds us that we ultimately live subject to the laws of nature – moreover, it does not care about political parties or national borders.
Scientists have warned us for decades that this crisis was coming – it was not a matter of if, but when. Denial, delayed responses, and lack of preparation have allowed the crisis to explode – despite all the warnings. Now we are really in it. Graphs depicting the calamity are deeply unnerving, with hockey-stick-like upward trajectories.
This is an invisible threat, difficult to grasp; it is not directly perceivable with our senses. Therefore, it is difficult to rally people, and our leaders tend to deny and delay action. Our culture of distraction and immediate gratification is averse to feeling and facing deep-seated, threatening fears. Yet fear is a necessary motivator: we must embrace fear and act on it, not avoid it.
Time to REALLY Respond Like We Are in an Emergency
Time is of the essence: the only sane response is dramatic action to stave off complete catastrophe. Both individual and collective action are needed, and we must mobilize all levels of society.
A centralized federal mobilization, with coordination and planning, is the essential core response – coupled with action at all other levels of government and society. Yet sadly, here in the US this is anathema to our anti-government, individualistic approach. This current administration is asleep at the wheel, even undermining state and local efforts – resulting in compromised, piecemeal responses. This is making the situation much worse.
Unfortunately, there is a delay in seeing the positive effects of actions taken. Therefore: (1) we are always behind where we think we are; (2) actions taken seem too soon; and (3) the needed measures go far beyond what is considered "politically possible". Delay has allowed the crisis to proliferate beyond control – the horses are out of the barn, galloping wildly.
The crisis calls upon us all to live more simply. Drastic constraints on human activity are needed. Yet our self-entitled culture perceives this as a loss of “freedom”, resulting in angry pushback and denial. Now more than ever, cooperation is desperately needed but is sadly lacking for many.
The Shattering of Normal
Our system's vulnerabilities and brutal shortcomings are now exposed. Meaningful action requires enormous economic sacrifice, displacing and devastating the lives of tens of millions of people in the US alone. A just transition is needed, requiring retraining and support for millions of displaced workers. The working class and poor are more vulnerable and exposed, further adding to the miserable inequities already burdening large swaths of society.
The crisis is shattering “normal” business as usual – pointing to the need for complete system transformation. Shattered means broken, beyond repair. There will be no “normal” to return to. Effective responses needed to adequately meet the threat will cause a global depression. The future viability of entire economic sectors is now called into question – especially the fossil fuel and travel industries.
What Is This Crisis?
Well, what threat are we talking about here? If you think this describes the COVID-19 crisis, you would be right. If you think this is about the global warming extinction crisis, you would be right, too. The parallels are quite amazing.
Of course, there are some differences. To contain the spread of coronavirus, physical distancing is required – urban density and mass transit make it worse. Not true for climate. The pandemic has gripped us with breathtaking speed, while the climate crisis has crept quietly toward us over decades. The scope and scale of the climate threat vastly overshadows the COVID threat. As enormous as this pandemic is, it is a mere opening chapter or dry run for what is coming with the looming climate catastrophe.
Jean Arnold, "HOW HOT IS HOT?", 2020, acrylic and collage on canvas, 28" x 20"
Somewhere in the world right now, a brainy kid fears for his future. He grasps that in his lifetime, the world will get hotter and hotter, and that there will be more and more fires. He wonders if winter will even exist in the future.
Many citizens of Pompeii actually fled to safety before the fatal eruption of nearby Mt Vesuvius in 79 AD. Fossil fuels are our “slow-motion Vesuvius”, but where can we flee to? Our only option for survival is to leave fossil fuels within this decade, for a chance to stay below a 2°C heat increase in the atmosphere. We believed “progress” would deliver ever-greater abundance, but instead, our pursuit of infinite growth on a finite planet is now delivering calamity. We have scarcely begun to walk the tightrope of this arduous time. At the bottom of it all, our extraction-based economy (here, depicting a coal mine) drives the whole process onwards.
See Jean discuss this painting here.
Opportunity to Remake Everything
We are now fifty years on from the first Earth Day. The planet now carries over double the humans in 2020 than in 1970. Our increased impacts have only further devastated our Mother Earth and all her wild creatures. Measures enacted after the first Earth Day have been undermined by the Trump Administration. Nations have taken little climate action, wasting decades of precious time. This Earth Day provides us with little to celebrate.
However, crises of this magnitude tend to turn systems upside-down and inside-out – providing an opportunity to usher in a new order. The Emperor is now exposed as stark naked. As eco-footprint originator Bill Rees says, “The Earth and the Covid-19 Pandemic Is Telling Us We Must Rethink Our Growth Society.”
The pandemic has shown us that leaders in politics and business can act quickly and extensively, taking into account scientific knowledge. To fight coronavirus, the majority of peoples and nations have been engaged and motivated to sacrifice for the sake of the whole. Most people understand we have to work together to beat COVID. Is it too much to imagine that we cannot work together to address global warming, and her morbid sisters such as soil depletion, plastic pandemonium, and ecosystem collapse?
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