Environmental Problems & Solutions
In preparing for this essay, I looked back for evidence on my early personal response to coronavirus. I recall that early on, it seemed like a repeat of SARS-CoV-03. Since then, we have learned that though SARS-CoV-19 is much less lethal and contagious, the response has been bungled in epic fashion by our inept leadership, leading to much more widespread death and suffering compared to the previous SARS virus. My reaction to the ongoing chaos and lack of leadership was to launch several websites to allow people to track their local data. The first of these was called “Covid19 Progress” (https://cjtrowbridge.com/covid19-progress/) It allows people to see and compare data like percent infected, deaths, tests, etc for countries and states. This data is shown in tables as well as linear or logarithmic charts. People can also request further data or visualizations to help clarify and inform others. I later launched “Corona Country” (https://cjtrowbridge.com/corona-country/) which does essentially the same thing but by county in the US; so you can see the same data for your US county and the adjacent counties.
I see three problems with “going back to business as usual.” First, the situation before this crisis was not good and we should not want to go back to it. We were already well underway in our ongoing ecological collapse. Even with the dramatic reduction in CO2 as a result of the shutdown, the climate change situation is not significantly improved. (Lombrana) Secondly, the SBA and FEMA are projecting that up to 90% of businesses will never reopen (Access), and the current Federal Reserve unemployment projections are already double-digits higher than the peak of the great depression (Castro). There is no “business as usual” to go back to. Third, as evidenced in Appendix A, there are historical examples where relaxing restrictions during a pandemic immediately caused more than double the death and suffering that would have otherwise happened. This is to say nothing of the second and third waves as evidenced in Appendix B. In Texas, prematurely reopening led to an overnight tripling in new infections in the last week. (Wallace) The idea of going back to business as usual just doesn’t make any sense and is not possible.
Coronavirus has exposed the fact that there are fundamental problems with our current system. Not only is it incapable of addressing serious challenges and existential threats, but it isn’t even capable of acknowledging them. Many people have drawn parallels to the climate crisis which is not only much larger and more dangerous, but we are not on track to either acknowledge or address it on any level.
As a student, my personal experience of the pandemic has been a comfortable and unchallenging one. I left the bay area as soon as the lockdown happened, and went somewhere that I can essentially live for free indefinitely while still receiving scholarships, financial aid, pandemic unemployment assistance, and other financial help. I built a large garden and sewed a fruit orchard.
My experience reflects a broader trend where a great many people are having their first experiences with real reflective analysis of their lives. People are forced to confront the reality that they are not living like they want to. With conveniences like fast food and cafes taken away, people are forced to subsist on their own, and they are waking up to the fact that consumer culture is not healthy and not necessary. There has been a huge surge in gardening for example as people begin to consider the source of their food and their impact on their surroundings. (Mark) People are reconnecting with nature at the same time as asking themselves what kind of world we want to go back to. I predict that future historians will look back at this time as a critical moment when people started to ask important questions about our role in the world and the duty that our leaders have to represent our interests both in the short-term and the long-term. In many countries around the world, we are already seeing shifts in public policy towards divesting from harmful industries and investing in the green future. (Hutin)
Things are going to get a lot worse before they get better, but this crisis if also an opportunity to decide what kind of world we want to go back to. Confronting these issues is not optional since most of the world of yesteryear will never reopen. Whatever comes next, we will have to build starting now. This means now is the time to discuss what we want to build next. Maybe we will start to see real change on these important issues throughout the world. Maybe future historians will look back at this moment and say this was one of the few times humanity decided to take advantage of its opportunities rather than squandering them. Maybe this is our moment to shine.
Access. “Study: 40% of businesses fail to reopen after a disaster.” Accessed 2020-05-20. https://www.accesscorp.com/access-in-the-news/study-40-percent-businesses-fail-reopen-disaster/?fbclid=IwAR2t33TSvNFi4BZ8X26753ydh_5UTTNd39d7AY-NYegEeE88jfOvGfmPFeY
Castro, Miguel. “Back-of-the-Envelope Estimates of Next Quarter’s Unemployment Rate.” The Federal Reserve. Published 2020-04-24. Accessed 2020-05-20. https://www.stlouisfed.org/on-the-economy/2020/march/back-envelope-estimates-next-quarters-unemployment-rate
Hutin, Clemence. “A green bailout must put Europe’s energy poor first”. Euractive. Published 2020-04-23. Accessed 2020-05-20. https://www.euractiv.com/section/energy/opinion/a-green-bailout-must-put-europes-energy-poor-first/
Lombrana, Lauda Millan. “A Pandemic That Cleared Skies and Halted Cities Isn’t Slowing Global Warming.” Bloomberg. Published 2020-05-07. Accessed 2020-05-20. https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/2020-how-coronavirus-impacts-climate-change/
Mark, Michelle.” People are rushing to plant ‘pandemic gardens’ and seed companies say they can’t keep up with the surge in demand.” Insider. Published 2020-04-14. Accessed 2020-05-20. https://www.insider.com/seed-companies-cant-keep-up-with-demand-for-pandemic-gardens-2020-4
Wallace, Jeremy. “Texas reports massive jump in COVID-19 cases in single day.” Houston Chronicle. Published 2020-05-16. Accessed 2020-05-20. https://www.houstonchronicle.com/news/houston-texas/texas/article/Massive-jump-in-Texas-COVID-19-cases-15275484.php