Justice during COVID-19 and climate change

The impacts from the coronavirus pandemic and climate change manifest longstanding injustices that continue to put corporate profits over and above the benefit of all people.

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted a longstanding chasm of inequality as deaths have numbered thousands and millions have lost their jobs, healthcare, and meagre life savings. Our broken world’s economic and social system has come clearly into view, along with the ways it prioritizes corporate profits for the few over the health and wellbeing of the many.

The world’s vulnerability to COVID-19 in many ways mirrors our vulnerability to the climate crisis, another global emergency that’s playing out over a longer horizon but manifesting in equally unjust ways. There is a better way forward. Through visionary, concrete actions that ensure social, racial, and economic justice for everyone, we can protect ourselves, as well as the only planet we will ever have.

Covid and climate change public health experts have warned for years that a pandemic was coming, that we weren’t prepared, and that too many were excluded from the healthcare system. While coronavirus vaccines are slowly distributed, millions continue to shelter arduously from the global pandemic. People’s ability to socially distance themselves, however, reveals vast inequalities.

Some can work from home, but some have no homes at all to shelter in. Others are on the verge of losing the roof over their heads due to sudden unemployment. There are many who must choose between going out to the front lines of this emergency—sometimes even when sick— or risk losing their livelihoods, including delivery drivers, grocery store clerks, farmworkers, warehouse employees, health care workers, nurses and home health aides. They do so often without proper protective gear and among crowded conditions. They are primarily blue-collar workers who are often paid low wages, and likely to be women and black.

Many of the members of these communities are also on the frontlines of the climate crisis, bearing the brunt of devastating storms, wildfires, and crop failure. They are also most likely to experience food and water shortages, disease, and poverty. The decisions being made around both the COVID-19 pandemic and the climate crisis reveal who is listened to most in our society—and who suffers the consequences of government inaction.

COVID-19 reveals two fundamental things about our world: a lack of a strong social safety net, and the lack of a commitment to equity for all. Both have roots in an economic exclusion. Segregation, isolation, exclusion. For black people, indigenous communities, and tribal nations, social distancing from their communities is an all too familiar concept. These systemic injustices also impact other vulnerable communities, including migrant communities, de-industrialized communities, depopulated rural areas, the poor, low-income workers, women, the elderly, the unhoused, the incarcerated, people with disabilities, and youth.

Both COVID-19 and climate change underscore a fundamental concept about justice that frontline communities have known and felt for all too long. One cannot separate racial justice, social justice, economic justice, or environmental justice from one another. It’s all justice; both crises can only truly be addressed through broad-based, holistic solutions that tackle the systemic injustices within our society that allowed them to thrive in the first place.

Completely retooling our society is no easy feat, but the key to change is collective action, as history has shown and as we’re seeing yet again. Farmers in India are protesting the dire inequality that has existed across much of the country for decades and has only been exacerbated by COVID-19.

We must rebuild our global economy sustainably and equitably—to lead to a future we all want to see for our families and communities, and particularly for those that have borne the brunt of a historically unjust system that puts profit over people and the planet.

(Keith Rushing & Jessica A. Knoblauch/earthjustice.org – © Can Stock Photo / focalpoint)

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