Guest Op-ed: What the Covid-19 Crisis Tells Us about Climate Change … and Ourselves

By Michael Parker 

The devastation and destruction caused by the COVID-19 crisis was seemingly unimaginable – millions sickened, at least 100,000 U.S. deaths, and a shattered economy.  However, the potential for devastation on this scale from a pandemic has been a concern for many years, but the federal government’s preparation was tepid and then dismantled by the current administration. All of which set up the ineffective and tragic federal response we witnessed, beset by denial, a disregard for science, finger pointing, and the shaping of a political narrative designed to bolster the President’s reelection campaign. 

Our state government’s response was markedly better, but was stymied by the ineffective federal response, forcing the state to bid against other states and countries for critical medical equipment and supplies. Add in the contradictory and conflicting messages coming out of the White House and it is a miracle the state’s response was as good as it was. On a local level, the City’s response was exceptional. The Walsh administration quickly identified vulnerable populations, providing essential social services and coordinating grassroots efforts to quickly distribute food, shelter and medical care for those in need and in danger of being disproportionately impacted by the virus. Virtually all of Charlestown’s businesses, nonprofits and individuals lent a hand to those in need and in danger – we should be very proud and inspired by our local effort.

The federal response to the COVID-19 crisis looks strikingly similar to its current approach to address the looming climate change crisis. Confusion and disregard of science and politics hold sway at the top – leaving cities on the front lines to save lives, property, and economies, as well as figuring how to ensure that climate change impacts do not disproportionately impact vulnerable communities. That said, we can see a path forward on the COVID-19 crisis, and that path looks strikingly like what is necessary to move forward on the climate change crisis.

The climate change path is simple, reduce carbon emissions by half each decade going forward until we reach carbon neutrality and zero emissions. Is that goal hard? Yes, but it is doable. It will require political courage, trust of science, and our collective individual actions to forge an economy built on things like building retrofitting, carbon capture and sequestration, and building renewable energy infrastructure. Some of that is happening now. Our own mayor is Co-Chair of Climate Mayors, a network of over 400 U.S. mayors who are committed to upholding the Paris Climate Agreement abandoned by the Trump administration. When these mayors meet, it is difficult to pick out who is a Democrat and who is a Republican, they just sound like people exchanging best practices to prepare their cities and residents for the existential crisis that climate change represents.

Look no further than your neighbors for the power of collective action.  Food distribution, medical, and social services distribution infrastructure was stood up by dedicated individuals overnight. Local news coverage was rapidly expanded, children learned at home, businesses adapted in creative ways, we conserved resources, and we found new ways to communicate and cheer on our front-line community. Our community strength is seeing us through the COVID-19 crisis, and it is providing a roadmap for what will get us through the climate change crisis. We learned over the past few months that existential crises are real do not just go away with nonsensical partisan talking with little action. We also witnessed something we already knew, the Charlestown community is full of unseizing courage, strength, and resilience. With that, anything is possible.  

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