It seems we’re now living in a pandemic.
As COVID-19 spreads, I have an eerie feeling of watching, in fast forward, the global response to the climate crisis to date. The denials and macho posturing, followed by the panicky responses, are coming from much the same quarters, and I have to confess that – as with anthropogenic climate change – I was slower than I’d like to admit in acknowledging the level of threat posed by this disease. Just as Irene lulled us into a false sense of security about Sandy here in New York, the lessons of SARS and MERS-CoV led me to believe that COVID-19 would be, in the end, contained. Increasingly, it seems like that will not be the case, and as hysteria and profiteerism move to center stage, we witness a disconcerting spectacle that calls into question our social, institutional, and political capacities to deal with the global crises engendered by neoliberal corporate globalization: Suddenly, air travel is our enemy (as if it wasn’t already, from a climate perspective) and just-in-time supply chains look like so many weakest links strung together around the globe…
My focus here will not be a hot take on the novel coronavirus, however; credit to Bill Bishop’s Sinocism, I’d heard before the news broke globally that the virus was spreading in Wuhan (a city that I visited and loved as a collegiate teenager who’d barely had the opportunity before that to leave the United States), and courtesy of the excellent coverage on Democracy Now! of the unfolding crisis (featuring Laurie Garrett), this turn towards pandemic does not come altogether as a surprise.
No, in recent months I’ve written about a broad vision for the 2020s, and some basics of climate math I think we should all now understand (as well as in support of Bernie Sanders and the struggle against rising fascism in India, and against the idea that re-election of our current US president is inevitable, which – given that he’s the most deferrable incumbent since Herbert Hoover – it is not), and today, my focus will be on the idea of a climate plan: You should have one. Your family should have one. Your place of work should have one. Your place of worship should have one. Your school should have one. Your borough, city, and county should each have one. Your state should have one. Our country should have one. Fortune willing, the world should have one.
Obviously, these are very different scales at which to act, and yet this is the exact sort of strategy that a global crisis demands. Without thoughtful, coherent, and timely action at the highest levels of government (and corporate administration), life becomes harder for all of us, but in view of the scale and complexity of the challenge of confronting a global pandemic or an unprecedented human-driven disruption of the climate, it is necessary that we seek out and engage all the levers of power available to us.
And what does a climate plan look like? The unsatisfying answer is: It varies.
For an individual, it may be informal, and simply involve a constant audit and evolution of habits and practices, and a process of negotiation with oneself about what is and is not necessary (from the aforementioned flying, to various forms of over/consumption). For a household or a small institution, perhaps it becomes slightly more formal and entails consideration of materials flows, procurement processes, sources of energy and water, waste streams, and the like. For a city government, the concerns will be much the same, but the level of complexity multiplied many magnitudes over.
As for a country, at least in the United States, it might look a lot like what the Green New Deal can and should become.
I’m keeping this short and to the point because this is an idea that requires a great deal of fleshing out, but its essence is simple: We should all be doing as much as we can at every level that we can to avoid global catastrophe and give ourselves a fighting chance for a hopeful future. We face a once-in-a-civilization challenge, but we’ve also been presented with a once-in-a-civilization opportunity. If we don’t fail, perhaps the world we shape will even be graced by a new sort of beauty. If we do, we will reap the whirlwind of our own negligence.
Postscript: If you’re looking for some starting points on what a climate plan might look like, this previous post may be helpful.