2021-01-07 orange 20058

Climate, health and social justice experts tell us how we can come out of the coronavirus crisis better than before.


The coronavirus is more than a vector of disease: It is a window onto our greatest failings. The pandemic has exposed a lot of weak points in society, from the lack of health care access and worker protection in the U.S., to the ways cities have been designed for cars instead of pedestrians, to the fragility of food supply chains. COVID-19 has disproportionately affected low-income workers and communities of color, revealing how historical biases have created and reinforced inequalities in society. It has shown that our abuse of the natural world is untenable.


The pandemic has been a series of escalating lessons in how not to prepare and how not to respond. We asked 10 experts in health, food, social justice and environment: After all these failures, have we learned anything?


“In the most painful way, pandemics show us what we need to fix in our world.”


Aaron Bernstein, interim director, Center for Climate, Health and the Global Environment at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and pediatric hospitalist at Boston Children’s Hospital


“Our response to this crisis must be transformative.”


Priya Mulgaonkar, resiliency planner for the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance


The pandemic has laid bare the pervasive and violent inequality facing people of color, compounding existing inequities faced by communities burdened with environmental racism, police brutality, and economic inequality.


Snow is seen on the San Gabriel Mountains beyond downtown Los Angeles under a clear sky after weeks of storms and reduced traffic due to the COVID-19 stay-at-home order, on April 14, 2020.


“The biggest point to draw from this past year is that solidarity actually matters.”


Bill McKibben, author, educator, environmentalist and founder of the nonprofit 350.org


The pandemic should remind us that physical reality is real ― I’ve been trying to make this point about carbon for years, that chemistry and physics don’t negotiate. The microbe makes the same point for biology. And as a corollary, fast action in the face of a crisis helps: South Korea had its first case the same day as the U.S. ― and one of those countries then acted swiftly to bend the curve and one didn’t. The same, obviously, goes for global warming.


After this year, when it’s become clear that the scariest sentences are more like “we’ve run out of ventilators” or “the hillside behind your house is on fire,” those words seem particularly contemptible and archaic.


“Real climate solutions must be built around justice.”


Robert Bullard, distinguished professor of urban planning and environmental policy at Texas Southern University and author of several books


COVID-19 acted like a “heat-seeking” missile that targeted the most vulnerable in our society resulting in disproportionate infections, hospitalizations and deaths of people of color.


The pandemic revealed severe flaws in our political, economic and health system that tolerated elevated risks to front-line essential workers and extremely high financial losses to small businesses owned by people of color. The pandemic widened the racial economic gap between “haves” and “have-nots.” Government pandemic stimulus and relief dollars followed a predictable pattern of “money following money, money following power, and money following whites.”


This year, a giant spotlight was shone on the connection between racial redlining practiced a century ago, pollution “hot-spots,” urban heat island disparities and high COVID-19 dangers.


Real climate solutions must be built around justice — climate justice, environmental justice, economic justice, health justice and racial justice.


“The COVID-19 pandemic ... provides us with an opportunity to reimagine and recreate public health.”


Lauren R. Powell, president and CEO of The Equitist, and vice president and head of health care at Time’s Up Foundation

任·鲍威尔,器械公司总裁兼首席执行官,Time’s Up基金会副总裁兼卫生保健主管

This moment is truly unlike any other. It’s made plain the deep social imbalances ― like poverty, racism, sexism, classism to name a few ― that are a new revelation for some, but have been common knowledge for many. As a trained public health professional and former state health official, I can’t help but think about the lessons that I hope health care and public health take and learn from the moment we’re in.


We need more diverse messages and messengers: There are hundreds of exceptionally qualified Black & Brown, Native, LGBTQ+, multilingual, multicultural public health and health care leaders who are better versed at communicating and connecting with the diverse communities they come from. Public health and health care have to elevate diverse leaders to positions of authority and visibility and learn how to speak the language not of science, but of the people ― by connecting with community leaders, faith leaders, and everyday Americans long before the point of an emergency.


“We must never forget that essential workers are essential all of the time.”


Ai-jen Poo, co-founder and executive director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance


We can begin with supporting our care workforce ― if we invest in making home care and child care jobs good jobs ― raising wages, offering benefits and real opportunity, we not only improve life for the care workforce, we help enable the rest of America to get back to work, knowing that our loved ones are safe and in good hands. The president-elect has already named this as a priority for economic recovery, as part of his 21st Century Caregiving Plan. Now we must make it a reality.


“This horrific situation has been the impetus for an incredible new unity.”


The pandemic wreaked devastation on the restaurant industry, and in particular on restaurant workers, who were already America’s lowest-wage workers. Prior to the pandemic, tipped restaurant workers received a subminimum wage of as little as $2.13 an hour at the federal level ... with the pandemic, the subminimum wage became a matter of life and death.


But this horrific situation has been the impetus for an incredible new unity in the industry for change. During the pandemic, we’ve seen hundreds of independent restaurant owners change their own wage structures to pay a full minimum wage with tips on top. Even the industry’s top trade magazines have had headlines declaring that the industry is rethinking the subminimum wage for tipped workers. Now we just need legislators to follow workers and employers who’ve already come to agree on this issue.


People line up in their cars to receive food assistance at the Share Your Christmas food distribution event on Dec. 9, 2020, in Groveland, Florida. Central Florida food banks struggled to serve those facing food insecurity during the holiday season amid the COVID-19 pandemic.


“The pandemic has taught punishing ... lessons about the hazards of food systems designed for profit, not public health.”


Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition, food studies, and public health, emerita, New York University, and author of books about food politics

Marion Nestle,营养学、食品研究和公共卫生教授,纽约大学荣誉退休教授,食品政治书籍的作者

The pandemic has taught punishing — and previously largely unrecognized ― lessons about the hazards of food systems designed for profit, not public health.


There was the revelation that we have two distinctly separate food supplies, one for retail — supermarkets, groceries, and convenience stores — and the other for institutional food service in restaurants, schools, and the like. When these institutions closed, foods designated for them had no place to go and had to be destroyed. At the same time, the millions of people thrown out of work had no means of buying food. Many lined up for hours outside overstretched private food banks.


It became achingly clear how vulnerable millions of Americans are to food insecurity, and how little it takes to put families at risk of hunger.


We also quickly saw how severely COVID-19 affected people with conditions related to poor diet: obesity, hypertension, Type 2 diabetes, and heart disease, and how important healthful diets are for preventing these problems.


Low-wage workers in meat packing plants, grocery stores, and farms were suddenly deemed essential, despite their lack of health care benefits and high risk of contagion.


“What’s needed is for nations to take aggressive action that addresses the lixed needs of people and nature.”


The pandemic killed the momentum, understandably. But it’s becoming clear that COVID-19 is not a separate problem, but an interconnected one. The same drivers of the novel coronavirus, and other emerging infectious diseases, are also the drivers of biodiversity loss. These include the wildlife trade that allowed COVID-19 to jump to humans, as well as land-use change and climate change that bring people and wild animals into close contact.


“One thing this pandemic has taught us is how much we were taking for granted.”


Laurie Santos, professor of psychology at Yale University