Earth Day 2020 will be like no other, virtually half of the world is in lockdown in some form or another. There is hardly any traffic in the streets, businesses are shut and the economy has ground to a halt. Peopled are restricted to their homes and are being denied basic human rights like freedom of movement and freedom of association. The police and army roam the streets and civil society organizations are feeding the vulnerable and stepping in where the state has failed or is unable to meet the needs of the citizens. The air is filled with talk of rebellion and resistance. Food riots have broken out in some areas and there are rumours that this is just the start. It is as if we are living in some zombie apocalyptic event.
What could have caused such an upheaval? well, by now you know the answer, it's a virus and it has the world in its grip. The coronavirus aka COVID-19 has infected almost three million people, killed almost 200 000 and spread to 210 countries across the world in little over five months. Everyone on the planet is susceptible to the virus and until we develop a vaccine we may have to learn to live in a completely new way. Social distancing has entered the popular lexicon, masks worn in public are suddenly de rigueur and hand sanitizer is the new soap!
What will we learn from this pandemic?
What we know so far is that hardly a single country was ready or adequately resourced. The so-called first world are faring as bad if not worst then the developing world. There is no universal agreement on the best strategy to fight it. The UK and Sweden were depending on herd immunity and look how that worked out for them. America is more interested in the economy and the stock exchange than the lives lost, and some have resigned themselves to the fact that the elderly are a necessary sacrifice to save the economy and perhaps a Presidency.
What are the real lessons that we can take from as we celebrate this 50th Earth Day? Besides the real issues that the pandemic highlights I want to focus on what we can learn as the climate movement.
I will highlight a few that I have discerned:
- The scale of the pandemic has revealed how truly connected we all are. There is now almost total coverage of the virus on all continents and nor is anyone immune from its ravages (pardon the pun).
- I learnt that borders are only lines on a map and that we truly are one people.
- I learnt that the pandemic is just a trial run for the climate crisis coming our way.
- I learnt that this period of social, medical, and humanitarian disruption can teach us how to organise and how to work together as a formidable force against a common enemy.
- I learnt that if just one virus can paralyse us, imagine what a wave of viruses or diseases vectors can do.
- I learnt that there is so much we do not know and are yet to learn and that we had better create systems that allow us to learn faster.
In conclusion I am reminded of something a family member posted in our family WhatsApp group. I am not sure who wrote it, but I credit the author for this insight. He said that it a fallacy when we say we are all in this boat together. He correctly said that we are NOT in the same boat but rather in the same storm. On reflection I thought about how true that sentiment is, and we indeed have seen that play out across the world.
The privileged can go to private hospitals and can practice social distancing without any impact, they are the yachts and cruise-liners in the storm. Then there are the ships that I equate to the factories that are necessary for the economy to move ahead and for the basic needs of our society. They find a way to weather the storm. Most people are in makeshift boats like those small ones that get tossed over by the slightest wind. They are the most vulnerable of all and we are them! That is how the climate crisis will play out and, on this Earth Day, we should be asking ourselves how will we react in our spaces as the crisis unfolds around us. We all have a role to play and we must act to demand that our governments and leaders declare a climate emergency now so we can adequately prepare ourselves for what will be coming our way within a decade or sooner.
The coronavirus is just a precursor of a humanity-wide catastrophe. We ignore the climate crisis at our peril.
About the author
Sunny Morgan, is the Coordinator for Extinction Rebellion Gauteng and environmental activist and change maker aka South Africa’s “Solar Guy”, is known for his work in the fight against climate change.