A viral lesson on air pollution
The coronavirus (Covid-19) has caused widespread disruption to the status quo and the economic engines of all major developed countries.
The shut down of planes, trains, and automobiles, businesses big and small, on an epic scale is something we never imagined would happen in modern times.
Many claims of the environmental benefits of these shut-downs being shared on social media are wildly inaccurate. And yet, it is hard to ignore the ongoing “experimental” reductions in air pollution and CO2 emissions we are seeing by reducing some of the driving causes (pun intended!) of climate change.
In cities where traffic has been stopped, there has been a marked drop in air pollution. The radical reduction in fossil-fuel fed vehicles and the toxic chemicals spewed by vehicles and industry has, surprise, surprise, resulted in cleaner air! (Cue the trumpet blare)
But let’s be clear – this may not represent long term, climate-change-trend-altering shifts in greenhouse gases! Not unless we continue with changes in our behavior. Instead, we could see a rapid return to pollution levels the same, or even higher, than before.
Nevertheless, for the first time ever, we can see and measure (in real time) the difference that NOT DRIVING is making in cities around the world. This is hard to ignore!
And to all the folks who thought that not eating beef was the answer to our climate change woes, take a hard look at what we are witnessing today.
There are just as many cow farts today as there were a month or two ago. In fact there might even be more, given that it is full-on calving season in the northern hemisphere. Yet still the skies are clearer over cities.
So in case you have missed it: THE COWS are not the major problem we face! Your car is. Your travel is. Your spending habits are along with the endless consumption of non-essential goods that later clog our land, sea and air with waste.
When the world stopped travelling cold to fight a virus and put human health above corporate profit, we see a rapid response from the environment showing us that we CAN actually stop climate change if we made it our priority!
We actually already know how to do this and it doesn’t involve an end to agriculture or sci-fi inspired climate engineering or seeding clouds.
These decades of delay and obstructionism have been nothing more than the distractions of big business and wealthy shareholders trying to hang on to their climate destroying practices just a little a longer, just a few more millions, before perhaps they cut back, a bit.
A viral lesson on redistribution
With a direct threat to human health staring us all in the face, suddenly we have found the speed and urgency needed to act right now to save lives (even as we have turned a blind eye to the thousands who have died from raging fires, violent storms, intense floods, searing drought . . . .).
The coronavirus has created an unprecedented example of what it means to work together to save ourselves:
- We have stopped all unnecessary travel.
- We are actively redistributing goods and services, and even money.
- We are making sure people have access to food – even creating special “senior hours” at stores to enable vulnerable people to access food first (talk about unprecedented!).
- We are cheering from the windows and balconies to support our true heros – the doctors and nurses, the cashiers and clerks, the technicians, the delivery persons, the pharmacists, and so on.
Sadly there has yet to be a resounding shout out to the world’s farmers who are working day after day (just like they always have) to produce the food. They remain unsung and invisible in this crisis, as if all that food on the store shelves really does just come from a truck. Go figure.
Perhaps, if nothing else, this virus situation has ensured that every person (rich and poor alike) is experiencing the inconvenience of having their lives turned up-side-down. They have no choice but to stop and think about what matters most to human lives right now: Food, Water, Shelter, and Medical Care.
What a surprise that GDP isn’t on that list people – not in a crisis – not when lives are at stake.
And of course, I know and you know that is not exactly true. Without the people who are continuing to work during the crisis, continuing to keep the lights on, continuing to provide communications, to make deliveries, to provide essential care, to restock shelves, to drive trucks and so on we would be in a devastating situation . . . . . .these are of course jobs and part of the economy too.
But the part that is all about maximizing profit . . . .that part of the economy is dead in its tracks right now and yet the world keeps turning, and the skies are clearer than ever before. (Shouldn’t there be just one more “Go Figure” right about here? I withheld but feel free to say it out loud).
What this virus crisis has demonstrated to us is that food, water, shelter and medical care are essential to every person on the planet because somehow this has gotten lost in our modern world. Without these essential elements provided to everyone, we are all at risk from the rapid, global, spread of disease.
It has also demonstrated that, when redistribution happens, there is enough to go around.
Suddenly we can put buying limits on key products and make services available to ensure that everyone is getting some. That possibility existed 6 months ago but was ignored.
Today, how do we ignore the fact that equality is now within reach? How do we go back to a world of have’s and have not’s in the name of an economy focused on creating a small number of super-rich?
What world do you want to live in?
I am not downplaying the issues with our current agriculture system because I have joked about cow farts. There is serious environmental damage resulting from some forms of agriculture and there is no question that we need to change the way we grow and distribute food.
We need to shift to regenerative agriculture methods. We need to ensure that local food security is given top priority over cheap food models that ship goods around the world while ignoring their damaging climate change footprints. We need to reduce our food waste in ways that create more food. All these things are still true.
And I am also not downplaying or ignoring the economic hurt that is going to descend on us all as this crisis plays out. People without jobs and mired in debt will begin to feel the sharp pain of this situation sooner than later.
But really that is part of the point I am trying to make. The despair that people are facing isn’t going to be solved by firing up the same old economic system and returning to our climate-killing ways just because the immediate threat of the virus passes.
There will be another virus. And another.
Until we fix the problems of distribution for the things people need to survive: food, water, shelter and medical care – we will just keep replaying the economic and social catastrophe of coronavirus over and over.
The economic devastation hanging in the wings is part of the broken GDP system driving our planet to the knife edge of unstoppable climate change impacts, and a world less inhabitable for our children than it has been for us.
The time has never been more appropriate to begin an immediate shift to a new economy that puts human well-being as the primary goal instead of corporate profits. The blueprint already exists in the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
The world doesn’t need even one more billionaire. Not one.
But the world definitely needs food, water and shelter for all.
It definitely needs infrastructure to prevent future pandemics. It needs medical care that can provide essential services for all who need it wherever they live. It needs systems that foster more creativity, joy, sharing, and communication and less grinding through pointless jobs to earn money to buy more stuff that no one really needs.
The hardest part of any change is just getting started
and we are already through the starting gate.
Why stop now?
Why not create the world we wished we lived in?
The Impossible Is Already Upon Us
Would anyone have believed a year ago that today we would see a world stopped cold? Neighbors serenading each other for free? Ritual evening clapping to celebrate the front-line workers helping the community get through another day? Recognition of grocery store clerks as front-line essential services deserving of an immediate pay raise?
The virus response has just proven that we can act quickly, definitively and globally in the face of an emergency.
Whatever is coming after coronavirus there are two clear choices:
We can go back to our old lives, resume the yoke of profit-driven economic destruction of the planet, and do our fair share of the work as we race to the bottom of the resource barrel. We can continue to support the concentration of the planet’s wealth into fewer and fewer hands, to the detriment of the rest.
We can take up the challenges of this unprecedented opportunity to redistribute goods, services, and wealth. We can create a new way of doing business.
We can step off the fossil fuel merry-go-round and focus on alternative energy and transport to ensure the gains made over air pollution continue to grow. We can choose to consume less, use only what we need, create less garbage, ensure food and shelter are available, and take care of one another. We can focus on acting with kindness and compassion. We can choose to honor the real heroes of our world, the people who step up every day to ensure you have access to what you need. And we can appreciate the fragility of life, and how quickly things can change and our loved ones can be gone.
No matter which path we find ourselves on tomorrow, the one thing that is certain is that we are social beings and we won’t survive long term social isolation. We need to change so that we can resume the social connections and activities that make life worth living.
The world after coronavirus will be a different place. How different depends on you.
Share your thoughts and ideas. It’s time.