Why The Government’s Response to COVID-19 Illustrates That It Has the Capacity (and must) Respond to the Climate Crisis with the same Degree of Urgency

In a matter of just a few months, the outbreak of COVID-19 went from seeming like a  foreign problem to one requiring immediate domestic action that has personally impacted all of us in one way or another. Our schools have closed, our businesses have stopped operating, we have needed to physically distance ourselves from one another to slow the spread, and our government has been sent into a tailspin in an effort to immediately pass legislation to respond to our nation’s needs. These measures are necessary to keep our country safe as this is a crisis and needs to be addressed as such.

But where is this level of energy and concern with addressing the climate crisis? The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change stated in its Fifth Assessment Report that “climate change is real and human activities are the main cause,” necessitating “far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society.” Our climate is being pushed to its limits as a result of the increase in average global temperature, sea level, and greenhouse gas emission, putting frontline communities in danger and the future of our world at stake. The U.N. is telling us that we need to make these economic changes–such as eliminating carbon emissions and relying on 100% renewable energy sources– immediately so that we prevent these environmental impacts from worsening and leaving us with a world that we are unable to save. We are seeing forest fires burn down communities in places such as California and Australia, high pollution levels causing severe health problems like bronchitis and emphysema, and rising seas flood communities in places like Louisiana and southern Florida. These are just a few of the many consequences that are already traumatizing communities across the globe.Our destroyed communities have proven that we need to respond to the United Nations’ statements by passing transformative, yet necessary legislation that creates far-reaching and unprecedented changes.

Governments can respond to these situations and can make the necessary changes, they are just currently unwilling to do so.

– Thomas Coulouras

Many people have argued that we cannot pass such  pieces of legislation because they are “impossible”, as the changes they make are too drastic and would cause too much change within  our society. This is simply not true. Our world’s rapid and drastic response to the COVID-19 pandemic shows that we are indeed capable of making reforms that match the scale of our problems. It is hypocritical that as our government has the capacity to address large-scale crises, it only chooses to address the ones that have immediate impacts on the economy and put the upper class at risk. Furthermore, it is choosing to ignore the climate crisis because as opposed to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is mainly putting marginalized communities at risk and is not impacting the economy as severely at the moment. If our government has the capacity to shut down thousands of schools and businesses and provide billions of dollars in aid to corporations, why wouldn’t Congress have the capacity to shut down energy sources that damage our climate and adapt by relying on renewable energy sources and funding a Green New Deal? If governments can listen to the scientists that illustrate the need to respond to COVID-19, why can’t they listen to the scientists around the world that are demanding we make immediate structural changes to save our climate? The answer to these questions is that governments can respond to these situations and can make the necessary changes, they are just currently unwilling to do so.

Unfortunately, there is a dark reason why our government is not responding to the climate crisis. The fossil fuel lobby, the actions of PACs to sway our legislators to benefit fossil fuel companies, is wrongfully controlling our government by preventing the passage of necessary climate policy. Trump’s cabinet is dominated by defenders of the fossil fuel industry and people who want to overturn environmental regulations and benefit wealthy fossil fuel companies that resist renewable energy sources and hence destroy our climate. It is clear that we need to free our government from the power of these fossil fuel supporters by pushing forward climate-conscious legislation and electing leaders that will push for the structural change we need. The sooner we make these changes and the quicker we stop our nation from destroying our climate any further, the easier our transition will be.

While this corruption and selfishness is harming both our planet and our people, we still have capacity to turn the trend around for the better.  Join the Sunrise Movement. Sunrise is a national youth advocacy organization dedicated to advancing the Green New Deal, the congressional resolution that lays out a grand plan for tackling climate change. It has hubs around our nation, where members can advocate for legislative change in many ways, from organizing strikes to meeting with legislators to writing pledges and press releases. Sunrise is a youth-centered movement that uplifts young and marginalized people, recognizing that they are the hardest hit by this crisis. Joining is a great way to not only learn more about the climate crisis, but use your voice to make a difference. A few friends and I helped launch Sunrise Hampden County into action here in the Greater Springfield Area, and we would love to welcome you! Feel free to learn more about the national movement at www.sunrisemovement.org and contact us at Sunrise Hampden County at sunrisehampdencounty@gmail.com.

Thomas Coulouras '21

Political activist and an often opinions writer for The Jet Jotter.

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