Talking with family and friends in the early days of the pandemic, one theme emerged over and over: shock. Shock at how quickly a seemingly stable world could falter, and how swiftly we had all adopted a new normal. With our very lives at stake, we moved with incredible speed. It has been moving to watch my fellow humans adjust and respond to the emergency, often heroically and with great compassion.
Not that such adjustments and changes have come easily. The tragedy of the loss of life and livelihood is staggering. There is terrible suffering for so many. And for those who are looking beyond the pandemic at the unfolding climate emergency, we know that deeper, longer-lasting suffering is on the way unless we act.
Here we are, reeling from the crisis in our midst, knowing that to protect life on our planet, we must achieve far greater changes still. We need a rapid, comprehensive transformation of the economy, society and daily life to keep us safe from climate change.
There are stories coming out of all corners of the world that give me hope that we might learn from the COVID-19 crisis and build a just, sustainable world that works for all of us.
In Vermont, for example, the Burlington city government hopes to spur the local economy by ramping up subsidies for green improvements. Using surplus energy efficiency funds, Burlington will increase funding for weatherization programs, raise incentives for switching to heat pumps and energy-efficient appliances, provide cost assistance for electric vehicles and distribute no-interest loans to small businesses for sustainable upgrades.
Cities like Seattle and London are closing streets to car traffic to increase space for socially-distant walking and cycling, and are making the changes permanent. In Brussels, officials are expanding bike lanes across the city to keep crowds off of public transit. In Pakistan, the government is hiring workers who have lost their jobs during the pandemic to plant trees.
Many officials are taking up the call for a “green” recovery from COVID-19. U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres has been speaking out for climate action in recent weeks, stating in a tweet on April 21 “We must act decisively to protect our planet from both the coronavirus and the existential threat of climate disruption. The current crisis is an unprecedented wake-up call. We need to turn the recovery into a real opportunity to do things right for the future.”
In his address to 2020 graduates last week, President Obama described the great challenge and opportunity facing young people at this moment — the chance to work for the common good to shape a future that is better for everyone.
Two enormous needs are converging at this time — the need to recover from the devastation of this pandemic and foster an economy that is safe and fair for all, and the need to create an economy that heals our ecosystem and restores a livable, safe climate. We must take this opportunity to tackle both crises simultaneously.
There is much work to be done, and rebuilding begins with each one of us. Some of that work starts right here — York Ready for Climate Action is a great place to build community bonds, push for better laws, and organize for a just, livable future.