Over 78,000 American cases. 1,135 dead in the United States as we write this on March 26, 2020.
Over the past several weeks, each of us has experienced a dramatic change in our routines of daily life. We packed our bags and left campus in the span of a week, and now are all over the country and the world, or we remain in the eerie, empty ghost town of Bowdoin’s campus. Our lively and stimulating classes will soon be replaced with pale apparitions of their former selves via Zoom. Many of us now face fears about what our future will look like—fears that we weren’t expecting to have to grapple with quite yet.
For some, this pandemic means watching Netflix at home or canceling an anticipated tropical vacation. But for millions in this country, it means lost jobs, greatly reduced hours at work and an unaffordable loss in income. While shameful politicians are downplaying the dangers of the virus and making millions from selling stocks at the right time, citizens risk losing a safe home for their families—or worse, risk losing a family member to the virus. The virus has exacerbated inequality, putting workers who cannot afford to take time off at risk and causing financial devastation to those without paid sick leave, adequate health insurance or thousands in their savings.
While the scale of the suffering we are seeing in America right now is new, the causes of the suffering are older than any of us would like to admit. Economic suffering due to socioeconomic inequality, physical suffering due to lack of a functional and universal healthcare system, emotional suffering caused by families and friends being separated—these all existed in our world before the coronavirus. The only difference is that now, no one is safe, no matter how much money or power they have.
Thousands of people have died from the coronavirus because U.S. politicians, who were warned by scientists and doctors about the risks of a pandemic like this, ignored their words. Climate change is no different. We have long been warned and continue to see its effects.
As Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez pointed out in a live stream last Sunday, the drastic and necessary global response to the coronavirus crisis has proven that we can, in fact, treat people humanely.
“It’s never been about whether we have the capacity to do these things or if the logistics have worked out,” she said. “All of these excuses that we have been given as to why we cannot treat people humanely have suddenly gone up in smoke … all of these issues were really about a lack of political will and who you deemed worthy … in an emergency or not.”
In times of crisis like these, the inequalities of our society are highlighted. The ways our systems fail to care for our most vulnerable are put on full display. Our response to this crisis will shape what our future will look like.
We represent a group of students involved with the Sunrise Movement, a youth-led organization to stop climate change and create millions of good jobs in the process. Our 11 guiding principles make clear that Sunrise is all about coming together. Right now, we cannot physically gather, but our voices are as loud as ever. The climate crisis and the coronavirus pandemic may not appear to have a lot in common, but both are threatening millions of lives around the world and have the potential to cause drastic economic losses. The difference is that climate change is seen as a problem of the future and one that affects only certain people, while the coronavirus is right in our faces. Let’s use this tragic social and political moment to prove that we can create strong communities and systems of support so that, during times of crisis, each member of our society not only survives but lifts others up as well. We have the power to change the way our lives work, to create a way of living that prioritizes caring for each other and the Earth. Now more than ever, in the time of great social change, we have the opportunity to create the future we want.
The Green New Deal is a legislative package that will convert our economy to one-hundred percent renewable energy and create millions of good jobs, while ensuring a just transition for America’s workers and families. Importantly, it would include Medicare for All—a need that is more clear today than ever. It would provide a much-needed economic stimulus by investing in infrastructure and creating green jobs to fuel a more sustainable future, while at the same time creating support structures such as universal healthcare that would prevent unnecessary suffering during the next crisis, whether it be climate-driven or not.
These structural changes may seem drastic and nearly impossible in the face of political opposition and moneyed interests, but we have done this before. We have mobilized to fight a common threat before—during the Great Depression and the Second World War. Out of the Great Depression came the New Deal, which created jobs, started Social Security, increased labor rights, funded the arts and developed infrastructure. During World War II, the entire country rationed foods and started gardens to ensure that the troops would have enough to eat. Americans used their time to volunteer for the cause. Women went to work in factories in place of the men fighting. People’s lives changed.
We have a common enemy now, too, and we must take this time of change as an opportunity, so those who have died unnecessarily from a lack of leadership and broken systems will not have died in vain. Wars have historically brought people together because they have provided, in the face of great tragedy, a reason to unite as a nation. We have experienced this elevated level of suffering before. We cannot forget the lessons that we are continuing to learn over the course of this pandemic. The challenges that we’re facing now, although shockingly dramatized and exacerbated by this current crisis, are not new.
Coronavirus is the current crisis, and climate change is one of the past, present and future. Both of them require us to reevaluate our priorities and recognize the value of human life over profit, and both require us to listen to the experts and consider what the future might look like instead of clinging to the past. Both of these crises require our immediate, collective and focused attention, and if we look close enough, some of the solutions may not be that different between the two.
This article was co-written by Hayden Keene, Leif Maynard, Perrin Milliken, Annika Moore, Olivia Bronzo-Munich, Lucie Nolden and Danielle Strauss. It represents the opinions of the Sunrise Bowdoin leadership team.