Gordon Wyse is on the Green Sanctuary Committee and presented this homily at The UUSA Earth Day service (April 19, 2020). It comes from an essay co-written by Margaret Bullitt-Jonas and Leah D. Schade, co-editors of the book Rooted and Rising: Voices of Courage in a Time of Climate Crisis. Their essay was published by Earth Day Network on March 25, 2020.
Earth Day 2020 comes at a tumultuous time. COVID-19 has upended our lives. If there was ever a time in which humanity should finally recognize that we belong to one connected family on Earth, this should be it. We share a single planet, drink from the same water and breathe the same air.
So, whether hunkered down at home or hospital, or working on the front lines, we are all doing our part to face a common enemy together. When COVID-19 is finally behind us, instead of returning to normal life, we must hold on to these lessons in the fight against climate change.
Below are six lessons the coronavirus pandemic can teach us about our response to climate change. (As de- scribed by Bullitt-Jonas and Schade)
1. Science matters. We can save lives by funding, accessing and understanding the best science available. The science on climate change has been clear for decades, but we’ve failed in communicating the danger to the public, leading to slow action and widespread denial of the facts.
2. How we treat the natural world affects our well-being. Climate change–and its root causes–may increase the risk of pandemics. Deforestation and other causes of hab- itat loss lead to transmission of viruses between species. Air pollution increases risk; for example in the 2003 SARS epidemic, the death rate was nearly doubled in areas with high air pollution. Climate change favors the spread of Lyme disease, malaria, dengue fever, and some other infectious diseases. And if we continue to de- stroy our lands, we also deplete our resources and damage our agricultural systems.
3. The sooner we mobilize for action, the less suffering will take place. Quick and drastic action can flatten the curve for coronavirus and free up healthcare resources, lowering death rates. Similarly, drastic action on climate change could reduce food and water shortages, natural disasters and sea level rise, protecting countless individuals and communities.
4. We have the ability to make drastic changes very quickly. When sufficiently motivated, we can suspend business as usual to help each other. All over the world, healthy people are changing their lifestyles to protect the more vulnerable people in their communities. Similar dedication for climate change could transform our energy consumption immediately. All of us can make a difference and play an important role in the solution.
5. All of us are vulnerable to crisis, though unequally. Those with underlying social, economic or physical vulnerabilities will suffer most. A society burdened with social and economic inequality is more likely to fall apart in a crisis. We must also recognize that industries and people who profit from an unjust status quo will try to interrupt the social transformation that a crisis requires.
6. Holding on to a vision of a just, peaceful and sustainable Earth will give us strength for the future. Earth Day 2020 will be remembered as a time when humanity was reeling from a pandemic. But we pray that this year will also be remembered as a time when we all were suddenly forced to stop what we were doing, pay attention to one another and take action.
Business as usual — digging up fossil fuels, cutting down forests and sacrificing the planet’s health for profit, convenience and consumption — is driving catastrophic climate change. It’s time to abandon this destructive system and find sustainable ways to inhabit our planet.
What would it look like if we emerged from this pandemic with a fierce new commitment to take care of each other? What would it look like to absorb the lessons of pandemic and to fight for a world in which everyone can thrive?
On this 50th anniversary of Earth Day, as fear and illness sweep the globe, we listen for voices that speak of wisdom, generosity, courage and hope. And as always, we find solace in the natural world. In the suddenly quiet streets and skies, we can hear birds sing.