One of the things I love the most about Georgia’s coast is that our connection to the rest of the planet isn’t ignored. It is celebrated with the arrival of many different species of wildlife who rely on our coast for survival, including red knots, sea turtles, sharks, and North Atlantic right whales. The migration of these amazing species connects us to the rest of this planet and proves that our local action can most definitely have a global impact.
The spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) is also proof.
Most of us forget that we are part of a global community until we turn on the news or fill up our cars. But, a few weeks ago, our journey on earth brought all of us to the intersection of Local and Global. A global pandemic required massive local action. We live in a world where global events almost never influence where we go on a daily basis, but we jumped into action. More than four billion people are now under lockdown or stay-at-home orders in an effort to influence an outcome that could take months.
To be fair, it was a difficult choice. The global economy is taking a massive hit – one that is unprecedented and for which no one could prepare. But with the spread of COVID-19 causing millions of people to suffer sickness, death, and the loss of loved ones, the choice is clear. Our local communities must work together on a global scale because we cannot stand by and watch the suffering on our doorstep. We are compelled to act.
I can’t help but wonder what all this means for the battle against climate change. Along with you, I have been learning about climate change since the late 1980s. I remember when George H.W. Bush said, “Those who think we are powerless to do anything about the greenhouse effect forget about the ‘White House effect.’” The reality of addressing climate change – curbing carbon emissions which come largely from burning fossil fuels (coal and petroleum) – must have sunk in shortly after his election, because, as you know, his climate action never went any further than that campaign statement in 1988.
Already, climate change has caused homelessness, starvation, economic despair, mass migrations of people and wildlife, disruptions to our food systems, and worldwide suffering. The journey to address climate change requires us to one day reach this same intersection of Local and Global. We aren’t there yet, but we could get there quickly if global leaders, including elected and corporate leaders, would come together like they are doing now and stop claiming that the issue is a hoax or a political plot. This denial causes confusion in local communities about the choices we must make if we want to reverse global temperature increases. The result is that we argue with each other and delay, which does nothing but make more likely the most undesirable outcome, which is human suffering, economic uncertainty, and life in a world where mother nature is more hostile than she needs to be.
People are acting now because global leaders came together around COVID-19 in an unprecedented way. Within a matter of days most everyone understood that we actually could flatten the curve. We all accepted responsibility, had access to the same facts, and an understanding that we’re all in this together.
There was no question that we needed to address COVID-19. It is killing people we love in a few short weeks. Climate change is also killing people, but it’s not a virus that can be identified by a test or an autopsy. It takes its toll on those most vulnerable because of systemic issues many are unwilling to address. So instead of being attributed to the climate crisis, casualties are blamed on poverty, hunger, and the lack of access to healthcare.
Addressing climate change will impact our economy, just like social isolation is currently. The good news about addressing climate change is that, unlike this novel virus, we have been thinking about it for decades. Already, many corporate and elected world leaders are promoting and implementing great ideas and strategies. Flattening the proverbial curve in the battle against climate change will require action on the part of all of us, but the biggest direct difference will be made by the largest polluters – power companies and industries. Therefore, the most important actions we can take as individuals are to support those who are leading the change and point out those who are not.
COVID-19 is changing us. It’s hard to know what our society will look like when we walk out of our front doors at the end of social isolation – whenever that will be. But I hope that during this time of metamorphosis, we emerge with the realization that we are not powerless. Our local actions can make a difference for this entire planet and every person’s choices have an impact. I hope we finally understand what united efforts can achieve and that we must unite more regularly to create the world in which we want to live – one that is more equitable, safe, and sustainable for all.
During this difficult time, I wish you peace and health. I look forward to seeing you on the other side.