It has been 218 days since the first COVID-19 case on United States soil and there is still no organized national testing strategy. Despite being warned ten times by public health experts as early as Jan. 18 about the threat the virus posed to our country, President Donald Trump and his administration failed — and are continuing to fail — to take the pandemic seriously. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert for decades, claimed “no one is going to deny fewer lives would have been lost had the administration acted sooner. What's been less clear amid all the chaos is that this global pandemic, an unprecedented catastrophe that has so far taken the lives of over 180,000 Americans, is unfortunately also a microcosm of the climate crisis.”
Whenever there is a crisis, there are always those with reactionary politics who are quick to downplay the threat or even completely deny its existence. With the pandemic, that takes the form of anti-maskers, anti-vaxxers and conspiracy theorists. By now everyone has seen at least one video of someone refusing to put on a mask inside a grocery store or shopping center. While it can be entertaining to watch grown adults scream and whine about having to wear a face-covering for 15 minutes, it does reflect extremely poorly on the political climate of the country.
From “5G causes COVID-19” to “Bill Gates is tracking people with the vaccine,” the number of conspiracy theories gaining traction in the U.S. right now is incredibly dangerous. These theories may contribute to the skepticism surrounding a potential COVID-19 vaccine; a recent Gallup poll found that one in three Americans would not get a free Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved COVID-19 vaccine that is estimated to be ready for distribution in early 2021. The Mayo Clinic estimated that for contagious diseases the ideal percentage of the population to reach herd immunity is in the ballpark of 70 percent. If the Gallup poll ends up being accurate, the 65 percent of Americans that would be willing to be vaccinated for COVID-19 might not reach the percentage necessary for widespread immunity, causing the pandemic to drag on longer.
This same skepticism is seen in conversations about climate change, with conservatives arguing climate change is natural and global temperature always varies over time. Trump has even gone as far as to tweet in 2012, “the concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive,” despite having signed a letter in 2009 urging then-President Barack Obama to support a global climate deal. Surprising no one that pays attention to the future of the planet, NASA reported that 97 percent of climate scientists believe climate change is a man-made phenomenon. Many climate scientists have suggested a deadline of 2030 to stop global temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius (34.7 degrees Fahrenheitper year, or the damage caused to the planet will be irreversible.
Even with scientists emphasizing 2030, neither of our current presidential candidates have a plan to hit that target. While Trump has no policies or plans on his website — and the Republican Party has even gone so far as to have no platform at all at their convention — Joe Biden does. His climate plan currently sets a date of 2035 to implement a carbon-neutral power grid. Biden campaigned in the Democratic primary with the target date of 2050, but thanks to the advocacy and tireless work of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-NY, the Sunrise Movement and environmental activists nationwide, he has moved up the date to 2035. While it is certainly an improvement, it does not go far enough.
This inaction repeats a pattern all too familiar during the COVID-19 crisis: politicians failing to listen to public health experts and take public health crises seriously. Esteemed scientists, trained experts, have provided political leaders with data and have pronounced their scientific opinions, but, amazingly, politicians refuse to act in a manner that meets the moment. Throughout the pandemic, we have seen a massive failure of government to act and actually provide help for the millions of Americans who have been devastated by an economy not seen since the Great Depression. Congress provided a one-time stimulus check of just $1,200 and then discontinued the previously-expanded unemployment insurance when it ran out a few weeks ago.
Because of the failure at all levels of government, it comes down to communities to care for those who need it most. An example from New York City is “community fridges” that were set up in the low-income neighborhoods that were hit hardest by COVID-19 and the economic downturn. These fridges were free, accessible to anyone who needed food and stocked by neighbors, helping each other whenever community members had any leftovers.
In the midst of all this economic and humanitarian failure, everyone wants to go back to a “normal,” which has caused the rush in reopening schools and corners to be cut in treatment approval. But this is a strategy that will lead to even more disastrous results if it is repeated with the climate crisis. Navigating these crises takes time and patience, and we must learn from past failures if we are going to stand any chance against what a disrupted climate will be throwing at us. The government’s handling of COVID-19 highlights the necessity to act urgently. Fortunately, Ann Arbor is leading by example having unanimously passed the A2Zero initiative last June. Cities like ours have begun to take the matter of future survival into their own hands and are finally treating climate change as the existential threat that it is.
Alexander Nobel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.