What parallels can be found between the climate crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic?
The BBC reports that around a quarter of the world’s population have been put under some form of quarantine. Support services such as hospitals and shelters around the globe are being overwhelmed, homelessness, joblessness, and hunger disproportionately affecting families who were economically insecure even before the pandemic began. The way the virus wreaks havoc on the poor brings to mind how extreme weather events haunt Filipino households, or how farmers in the Sahara and Middle East confront prolonged drought. Both the pandemic and climate change are calamities of global importance, forever changing how we live.
As news reports have made clear, the pandemic, like climate change, exposes and aggravates inequality. The World Health Organization recommends physical distancing to limit the spread of the virus. But how does a family in a slum practice physical distancing? When the government tells the homeless to stay home, and orders construction workers and jeepney drivers to work from home, it’s the poor and vulnerable who cannot afford to follow the government’s cold counsel.
It’s clear who the frontliners are: the health workers, garbage and delivery people who keep society healthy and intact, the janitors, security guards, market vendors, and cashiers. It’s also clear who the most vulnerable are: not just the urban poor and the homeless, but also women and children who, way before COVID-19, have had to live with the brutal quarantine imposed by domestic violence. The very people who are risking the most in fighting the pandemic, as well our most affected communities, should be the ones to lead the way out of our crisis.
One thing the virus has exposed is a deep vein of human goodwill. When health workers ran out of means to get to work, people lent bikes or donated funds for the purchase of bikes. When hospitals ran out of equipment, families donated masks, gloves, and alcohol, or began manufacturing them, or organized supplies and supply chains. People care, and try to do what they can to keep their communities afloat.
If there is one lesson the climate crisis can contribute to the pandemic, it is that demands for justice and equality cannot be answered by medicine alone. As our daily lives and habits are changed by the virus, we should take the time to observe ourselves and our surroundings, to notice the things we took for granted, the things we never knew were there. We should remember the empathy we are witness to today, as well all the injustices revealed again and again by the pandemic. Moving forward, these are the building blocks to shape and take control of a common future we have yet to build.