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In this op-ed, a Zero Hour co-founder says we should treat both crises like the emergencies they are.
You know that gnawing feeling of “oh, God, we’re in the midst of something horrible” you have because of the coronavirus? Are you looking around at this crisis sweeping across the world and feeling helpless because you have limited power to stop it?
That’s how many of us have long been feeling about the climate crisis.
The way the world has been able to mobilize itself and shut down in the blink of an eye to properly respond to the coronavirus is proof that political leaders actually do have the ability to make rapid change happen if they want. So where is that rapid response for the climate crisis?
For years, climate justice activists like myself have been calling for immediate action on our climate emergency. And for years, that action has not taken place. Scientists have said that we have less than a decade to completely transform how our entire economy and world runs, transitioning over to renewable energy and sustainable agriculture. Yet we continue to plow ahead with business as usual, paving the way toward a future of extreme weather events, mass displacement, disease, famine, and death. That’s not hyperbole; those are the predictions and findings of experts who have devoted their careers to this issue.
So when we’re in the middle of such an existential crisis, why have there not been coronavirus levels of shutting down and completely rewiring our society? Every time I meet with lawmakers and tell them that we need rapid transformation to halt climate change, they tell me “change that fast just isn’t possible.” But the COVID-19 world response has proven that rapid change and disruption of business as usual is possible!
What would it look like when the world actually decides to take on the climate crisis? It would look like what we’re seeing right now. Media coverage of the issue 24/7. Consistent headlines about updated death tolls. Experts appearing on the news daily to update the public on the crisis. Everyone stopping everything and putting the world on pause to deal with the immediate crisis at hand. The coronavirus response is showing us how people can mobilize and do their part when it is properly communicated to them that we are indeed in an urgent crisis.
The parallels are not exact, and the world COVID-19 response is not a perfect template for how the world must mobilize for climate justice. Many vulnerable people are being left behind in the coronavirus rapid response, and our just transition away from fossil fuels and factory farming must make sure no one is forgotten. And a global rapid response to the climate crisis, unlike the isolating quarantine required to curb the spread of COVID-19, could be joyful. We could call for the rapid creation of jobs in new renewable fields, training workers to transition from fossil fuel jobs to clean energy jobs and mass reforestation projects. Pandemic response is simply trying to mitigate a disaster, while urgent climate response is not only mitigating disaster, but actively creating a better world.
So where do we go from here? Once the coronavirus gets under control, the world cannot exhale and go back to normal. We need to move on to tackling the other deadly crisis that cannot wait.
Jamie Margolin is a youth climate activist who founded the climate justice organization Zero Hour. This story originally appeared in Teen Vogue and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalistic collaboration to strengthen coverage of the climate story.