With the novel coronavirus becoming a major headline in today’s news, it is fair to say our lives have changed dramatically. Daily activities such as attending school and purchasing groceries now require an extensive list of precautions. Schools all across the country have also begun to move learning online by using platforms such as Zoom. With all this being said, the United States’ approach to the coronavirus has shed light on issues like Medicare for All, criminal justice reform, and workers’ rights.
In the midst of these discussions, climate injustice has popped up in many places around the internet. Some argue that a positive outcome of the coronavirus pandemic is the fact that the environment is benefitting from the decrease in activity everywhere. Numerically, we have seen a large drop in greenhouse gas emissions as many businesses and factories close, alongside the fewer cars on the road. According to the World Economic Forum, NO₂ pollution over New York and other major metropolitan areas in the northeastern USA was 30% lower in March 2020, compared to the monthly average from 2015 to 2019. In the UK, NO₂ pollution in some cities fell by as much as 60% compared to the same period in 2019. Most of our air pollution today comes from power plants and road transport, but with most cities on lockdown, people no longer have that opportunity to be out and about. Despite these improvements in air quality, we must understand this cannot be a permanent solution to the ongoing crisis. After all, we will have to return to our normal lives at one point or another.
It needs to be clearly said: the COVID-19 pandemic is not the solution to climate injustice. Not one bit. There should be no glory in the massive suffering brought by this virus. When we look at the current situation, the only takeaway should be the fact that we need immediate structural change and policies designed to tackle the current crisis. Right now, the Green New Deal, a package of policies aimed at creating good jobs and restoring the American landscape, is our biggest hope to enact legislative change. It is imperative we push those who represent us in politics to support it because frankly, we do not have time to waste. In the case of COVID-19, the Trump administration dismissed the facts presented by science and medicine for weeks, ultimately waiting until the virus had spread all across the United States. This pandemic should be a red flag to the government and politicians nationwide, signaling the need for action before it is too late.
Another concerning idea circulating throughout social media platforms is the phrase “we are the virus,” indicating that all humans are a “plague” on the earth. Not only does this idea have serious flaws when it comes to environmental accountability, but it also supports an eco-fascist mentality. Eco-fascism, for those who are unaware, is the encouragement of a dangerous approach to the climate crisis. An example of this dark ideology would be promoting human suffering as long as it helps the environment. In the end, phrases like “we are the virus” are unproductive and completely disregard the disproportionate impact different people and societies have on the environment. For example, it takes someone in the UK just five days to emit the same amount of carbon dioxide that someone in Rwanda does in a year. Instead of championing ignorant ideas, we should be working together to hold corporations accountable and push for justice-focused infrastructural solutions.
Even as we stay critical of inaction, it is important we highlight the amazing work being done within the realm of climate activism during this pandemic. Even with social distancing in place, green movements across the world have brought thousands of people together virtually in hopes of raising awareness and cultivating ideas surrounding climate action. Starting on Earth Day, the US Climate Strike Coalition and Stop Money Pipeline Coalition planned a three-day national livestream featuring many influential individuals including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Jane Fonda, Joaquin Phoenix, and many more. To add, many local climate groups have also planned their own virtual climate strikes involving community leaders and local politicians. As the fight for climate justice continues, we must collectively support efforts such as these to raise awareness and call for action. While a deadly disease might not be the cure to climate injustice, the community care and action that arise to fight it just may be.