Wow, what a crazy time 2020 has been! So many layered crises, layered on smouldering climate change. The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the vulnerabilities of our society and economy, while the events following George Floyd’s murder have further ignited and exposed systemic racism in the US and elsewhere – Canada being no exception.
It’s really too much to unpack in a little post, but…
I wrote a couple of pieces early in the pandemic, posted on Medium, on:
- City climate action and COVID-19
- Buildings that Help us Heal – How building retrofits can reduce emissions and improve health, including for COVID-19.
Here are some of my top take-aways from this era so far:
- The importance of science and responsive government in limiting the impacts, and alleviating economic suffering (hello Jacinda Arden). I’m so thankful to be living in Canada with universal healthcare and national and provincial leaders (at least in BC) that are being guided by the science (thank you Dr. Bonnie Henry). My main criticism is our reluctance to strongly encourage and in some cases mandate wearing face-masks in crowded public areas. To be fair we are just following the lead of the WHO, but the criticism on this point is increasing as the case for the airborne nature of the virus mounts. I’ve been tracking this issue from the start, when I was impressed with the case of Czechia in suppressing transmission through a grass-roots masking campaign. Here’s a list of scientific studies and comprehensive journalism I’ve compiled on the topic. If we get hit with a second wave, this could be a key way to avoid total economic shut-down, as well as save lives.
- The recognition that our well-being depends on health-care workers and frontline staff. I hope the accolades translate into a living wage and better working conditions for essential workers.
- Equity needs to be front and centre in addressing both COVID-19 and climate change. The effects of both crises are disproportionate and vulnerable populations and communities of colour are being hit harder. It can take a disruption like this to shake things up for having long-overdue conversations. I’m encouraged that this is happening. As a White/privileged person I think we need to dig deep, listen to those who have been oppressed for so long and sincerely try to do better.
- We can make big changes quickly. After decades of hand-wringing about homelessness, suddenly governments found a way to buy hotels and give people safe places to live. Elsewhere, Finland has been profiled recently for their success some years ago in providing housing for people in need “unconditionally”. The solutions are available, we just need the will to implement them.
- The movement to take back public space from cars is gathering momentum. Paris is probably one of the most impressive examples of a rapid re-prioritization of roads for cycling and walking, but hundreds of cities around the world are doing similar things to give people more space for physical distancing and outdoor eating. Here’s a great compilation. Some of it may be temporary but once people – and businesses – get a taste for it, I think much of it will stay.
- Renewable energy is surging and the fossil fuel industry is in dire straits, a trend that has been hastened by the economic crisis.
- People can take collective action for the benefit of others! Notwithstanding the anti-maskers etc., most people have willingly made big changes to their personal lives – such as staying home – to slow the transmission of a deadly pandemic. I’ve seen a lot of stories, and experienced neighbours and community members cooperating to help each other. This gives me hope that we can also act together for climate change.