Living through a pandemic is scary. Not knowing when it will be over, whether the precautions you take will matter, what risks you’re taking sending your kids to school or getting on a bus or train or how to understand the conflicting information you read; it’s all confusing and distressing.
Unfortunately, we have allowed our fear and uncertainty to translate into withdrawal from recent progress in environmental protection measures like single-use plastic bag bans, and have instead reinforced our disposable culture with rampant use of disposable masks and gloves and coffee cups and take out containers. And to make matters worse, these items are being dropped on our streets and in our parks and are making their way into our waterways.
This is not the time to relax our efforts to address climate change, reduce the use of disposable plastic or to waste less. If anything, we should be trying even harder given what issues this pandemic has underscored in terms of systemic and endemic inequalities in this country.
These include racial disparities in health care, access to housing, and criminal justice as well as how environmental health risks like asthma, diabetes and heart conditions have put people of color and low-income people at greater risk for contracting and dying from coronavirus.
Now should be when we double down on efforts to address the things that are destroying our planet and ourselves. We cannot forsake all the progress that has been made at the first sign of a challenge.
Yes, life is harder right now, but is skipping the reusable bag to go grocery shopping and taking a single-use plastic bag instead really making your life easier right now? It will unquestionably make your future life and your children’s lives and your grandchildren’s lives more difficult because that plastic bag will never go away and we will be paying for your decision to use it forever.
Every day we make choices big and small and now there are even more choices about whether to leave the house and what protections to take if you do. Let’s rise to the challenge and commit to preserving the positive steps we have taken and to taking the next ones.
We don’t need to wait for our elected officials to legislate our behavior. We need to acknowledge what we know to be true about the state of our environment and then recognize what matters to us – our families, our health, our livelihoods.
Imagine how successfully you will protect any of those things without clean water, without clean air and without food. Thousands of people are already facing that reality; they have been forced from their homes because climate change has destroyed their ability to grow food, has decimated water sources and has eliminated job opportunities.
Do we need to wait for this to happen in our communities or can we look ahead, see the writing on the wall and do something to change that fate?
Certainly, this pandemic has shown us what we can handle – quarantine, social distancing, mask-wearing, furloughs, homeschooling, not to mention the unknown risk of contracting a potentially fatal disease.
Are we really going to say it’s too hard to think about conserving water and reducing how much we send to the landfill after all we have managed to deal with in the last 8 months? Instead, let’s remember how much we appreciated the warm weather that gave us the chance to get out of our houses and to see friends and family even if socially distanced.
How much have we relished our open spaces during this time? This is conceivably not the last pandemic we will face. Let’s learn from this experience how important a clean and available natural world is and do all we can to protect it.
Set an example for your friends, family and neighbors.