Opportunity in a Time of Crisis

Take Time To Observe

With the coronavirus spreading across the globe like a fast-moving hurricane, many Americans feel threatened, helpless and uncertain. We are not alone; the invisible pandemic is wreaking havoc in all corners of the globe by taking lives, crushing economies, separating people and inciting fear. The impacts of the crisis are global, and everyone feels the effects! We all know this. Now, what can we do about it? Yes, “Stay home.” We get that, but do we have to be so passive when confronted with one of the modern world’s greatest challenges? Isn’t there something we can actually do?

Recently, several members of York Ready for Climate Action (YRF100) met virtually to consider how the COVID-19 pandemic will impact the group’s goals. Hearing that several media outlets report that the pandemic will likely derail the climate movement, which has been gaining real momentum, our initial sentiment was one of gloom. It may be challenging for businesses devastated by the pandemic to focus on energy-efficient practices, and it may be more difficult for climate activists to organize and spread their messages when no one wants to hear about climate change during a more urgent crisis. Then we paused. That is what the pandemic has forced us to do: to pause, to stay put and be calm. It has also forced many of us to take some time to observe. As we observe, we inevitably gain perspective.

In our observation, it is apparent that the COVID-19 crisis is similar in many ways to the climate crisis. Both crises are essentially about creating a livable planet in the short term and in the decades and centuries to come. Issues of equity, health and resilience are at the core of each crisis. Two stark differences are the speed at which each crisis emerged and the resolve to confront it. The fast-moving pandemic is helping us learn how to address the slow-moving yet looming crisis of climate change. This is what we’ve learned:

Individuals matter.  The actions of a single individual make an impact. It takes individuals from all walks of life and all corners of the world to stop the spread of a virus and mitigate climate change. No one is free from fear of the COVID-19 virus until everyone is free. No one is free from the impacts of climate change until everyone is free. We are all connected, and we all matter.

Integrated problem-solving.  We can’t solve big problems in small bubbles. Tackling global problems requires us to join perspectives, experiences, knowledge, and expertise.  It requires people to work together, to cooperate, to be open-minded, to continue to learn, to accept new data, to conduct research, to acknowledge there is no quick and easy vaccine, magic pill or cure-all solution.  Solving big problems is not just for elected officials. Scientists, healthcare workers, advocacy leaders, business leaders — all hold a piece of the solution, and a solution will be effective only when individuals work together during all phases of implementation.

Actions produce results.  The incidence of COVID-19 cases is lower in regions that adopted strict social distancing. It takes both leadership and action to produce results. It’s true that one person staying home does not solve the pandemic, but it does make a difference. One person buying an electric car or telecommuting does not solve the climate crisis, but it does make a difference. More important, actions to reduce the spread of the coronavirus are contagious. Our families, our neighbors, our friends and our co-workers are watching. Just as we can model prudent behavior to keep each other safe during the pandemic, we can model behavior to help each other make wise decisions and investments to combat the climate crisis.

Interconnections. Economic activity, energy and transportation systems, greenhouse gas emissions, and air pollution and health are so directly connected that we can see the impacts of one on the other in a matter of weeks, if not days. Understanding these strong interconnections is key to addressing both crises.

How will we emerge?  The answer to this question presents the greatest opportunity.  Will we, the citizens of York, take the insight that we’ve gained since hitting pause on our busy lives and “do something?”  The answer to this question is a resounding “Yes!” The COVID-19 crisis has not dampened our eagerness to address the climate crisis and to create a more livable planet, but it has provided us with insight and motivation.  Governments at every level are preparing plans for recovery from the pandemic and associated economic crises. We are thrilled about the idea of recovery investments that also produce cleaner air and water, a safer global climate, lower energy bills, alternatives to gas-guzzling vehicles, and better public health overall. York Ready for Climate Action insists that steps to reinvigorate our economy will also free us from the burdens of a fossil-fuel economy. We will emerge energized, stronger and healthier.  Please join us. For more information, see or [email protected]

— Michele Putko, Gail Berneike, Christine Siebert

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