I recently watched several videos captured on YouTube illustrating the new emergence of wildlife in human developed areas around the world.
Scenes of mothers of various species with their offspring in tow, busy exploring empty streets and parks. One video described the changes in Venice, the waters now clear without the disruption of countless boats, and residents spotting fish and dolphins in the harbors.
People are expressing amazement that nature can rebound so quickly and excitement in the promise that nature can apparently still heal. The drop in fossil fuel emissions is clearing the air around the globe and unveiling horizons hitherto smothered in smog. I also recently read about the present glut of oil and the devastation of the shale industry and fracking as demand has plunged downward since shelter-in-place policies. My next thought was how Exxon Mobil had known for decades about climate change, suppressed the information of its own scientists, and instead pursued massive oil-based profits. This is not an industry that actually should recover. The entire fossil fuel industry shares the same priorities as Exxon Mobil and they are priorities we cannot afford.
Throughout history, times of crisis expose both weaknesses and strengths. The lack of robust public health investment, comprehensive healthcare, or adequate social safety nets in the US has been glaringly revealed, along with the ideological priorities of the party controlling the White House and Senate. The US has become an epicenter of this pandemic despite being among the wealthiest countries in the world. One politician even suggested that the elderly should sacrifice themselves at the altar of the economy.
But the economy is not some absolute entity; it reflects the power structures and social relationships of production, ownership and political will. The question is not about resources, but about distribution; the economy is a creation of human society and it can be motivated by other priorities than profit. The 2008 mortgage crisis saw a massive transfer from public to private wealth. But we didn’t have to subsidize major corporate industries unconditionally.
We could have required auto industries to prioritize electric vehicles. We could have broken up monster banks and reinstated the role of smaller banks as lenders to support small businesses instead of huge speculators in finance capitalism. We could have protected homeowners. We could have created the social safety nets for citizens and the regulations on business needed to protect our population from financial ruin and untold suffering in the future. What about this time? The world order is cracking again. Can we move forward toward a green new deal?
Watching those videos gave me hope but also broke my heart — we have a choice. The now clear waters of Venice can turn gray again with no more dolphins, the Himalayas can disappear again into the haze, our own communities can again push back the wildlife struggling to coexist against the terrible odds we have foisted upon them. Or we can understand that our own wellbeing, and that of our children, is aligned with those dolphins or those birds or those wild boars. I feel hope that this rapid incursion illustrates the resiliency of nature and ecosystems to heal, but also grief that business, as usual, will again betray our shared interests.
Solving climate change will require changes that also resolve existing social injustices, and protect both the needs of human beings and wildlife. Yes, our children and the children of the wildlife now exploring new places are different species, but both are children of our single planet and their interests are inseparably aligned. We need to organize our human societies to protect them both. The many examples of mutual aid and human compassion this pandemic has motivated in our citizenry show our strengths; now is the time to require the same of our society as a whole.
Please join the Vashon Climate Action Group for an online general meeting from 3 to 5 p.m. on May 17. We will be joined by Dr. Sandra Steingraber, renowned scientist, teacher and author who was pivotal in the struggle that banned fracking in New York State. She visited Vashon Island last September to speak at a screening of her documentary “Unfractured.” She will discuss working to resolve climate change in these times. Following Sandra’s talk, we will lead a discussion on how we can learn from this current crisis to address the bigger crisis of climate change. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to receive a meeting invitation.
Maia Syfers is a member of the Vashon Climate Action Group.