This is a brilliant statement from Andy Pearson, key organiser in Minnesota in the battle to stop the Line 3 tar sands pipeline being built. It draws parallels between government inaction and delay on COVID-19 and on climate change, and points to a collective strategy to deal with both.
Further down the post you’ll find a link to a statement from the Democratic Socialists of America, with a great set of concrete demands, actions we can take now, and explicitly linking fighting COVID-19 to implementing a green new deal immediately.
Don’t panic – organise and build hope.
“I’ve been an organizer on climate change issues for a little over a decade. Watching Gov. Walz’s press conference today on COVID-19 response in Minnesota, I’m reminded of disturbing parallels around how our governments deal with disaster events in this country.
I should note that I’m not a healthcare expert in any sense. I don’t have medical training. What I am used to, and what feels like it applies here, is the feeling of knowing enough about an issue to understand that the measures that our government is proposing are not enough, not by several orders of magnitude.
Climate change works on a much longer timeline than COVID-19 but shares a commonality of early intervention being the only real way to avert catastrophic impacts. We’ve mostly blown our chance for effective early intervention on climate and I fear that we’re repeating that in MN on our COVID-19 response. Early intervention at the point when it’s most effective feels like an overreaction in that moment, because the seeds of the problem are sown but the full scale of disaster is still far from fruition. The same arguments come up — immediate impact to the existing economy, immediate impact on people with a low income, lack of extensive proof of local impacts.
It’s fair to worry about impacts to the existing economy, and necessary and right to worry about impacts to people with less of a safety net. The catch, of course, is that impacts are coming either way — through inaction or through proactive action. On climate, the experts are crystal-clear that proactive action will result in better lives for more people than inaction. Health experts, epidemiologists, and recent global experience seem to be saying much the same thing about COVID-19. One of the questions that I hope this compels us to ask is how we can do more to provide a safety net for people who need it most in these times of destabilization. We shouldn’t support a structure that so inequitably distributes the impacts of larger political failings, on climate or on a pandemic.
I believe it’s wrong to argue against action because we don’t have a big database of local impacts yet. Again, the time between action and consequences is key here. By the time we see disaster all around us, like Italy is experiencing right now on COVID-19, it is too late to avoid those impacts. The small number of COVID-19 cases that testing has found in MN does not mean it’s not spreading. The continued presence of loons and moose in MN doesn’t mean those species are immune from the long-term threat of a warming climate.
The US isn’t alone in being slow to react on these crises, but we do seem to consistently fail to grasp the magnitude of things we can’t fight with guns. Listening to Gov. Walz’s press conference today, I was struck that he was planning to implement stronger measures when — not if — this situation gets worse, and only doing small steps now, rather than doing more now to try to head off those impacts. We’ve seen a more dramatic lack of action at the federal level. This kind of narrow and incremental thinking applied to a global and exponential problem is the same kind of thing that leads to the approval of the Line 3 tar sands pipeline in Minnesota, since its well-documented carbon impact doesn’t feel important enough yet to some decision-makers to find a way to fit it into the state’s existing boxes, even as they acknowledge change is coming.
There are better models. South Korea has been ahead of the curve on COVID-19, most countries in the world have been more proactive on climate than we’ve been, and with both, we benefit from the actions of others while our own inaction contributes to a global crisis.
One thing that climate organizers have practice with is getting over the sense that our government structures will adequately protect us. It’s well-established on climate that they won’t — that’s why we need organizing. There are a whole lot of good people working on COVID-19 in government, and yet the actions from the people most in charge are not enough to protect us. That’s why I’ve been inspired by the social movement organizing I’ve already seen around this pandemic, including local mutual aid lists as well as staythefuckhome.com.
One peril of delayed action is that once the situation does get dire, and the state does move to act, the solutions on the table are often frighteningly authoritarian. I’ve often said, with climate work, that the more proactively we act, the more we can protect and expand our freedoms rather than giving an opportunity for them to be taken in the name of crisis response. On COVID-19, I worry that we’ll see quarantine measures eventually enforced without compassionate steps like rent forgiveness and income compensation for low-wage workers so they can stay home voluntarily. It goes without saying that a national single-payer healthcare system would help our response, but I worry that our government will invest in bailing out the for-profit insurance industry instead. I appreciate the work the Democratic Socialists of America has done in compiling some ideas of what compassionate responses to this pandemic could look like: https://www.dsausa.org/…/now-is-the-time-for-solidarity-ds…/
I’m grateful for the amount of #CancelEverything momentum I’m seeing. Grassroots work has always been a huge driver of positive change; there’s no reason to think it can’t both push our governmental response in a better direction and help us figure out together how to make the best decisions to protect each other in our communities. We can’t count on our governments to have the right answers on their own — not because it’s fundamentally impossible for governments to act right in the face of a crisis, but because ours don’t seem prepared to. Let’s continue in the work to change that and support each other, for the sake of us all.”