Multiple Crises Call For Our Response
Brandon Sun “Small World” Column, Monday, August 17 / 21
For a time in our lives that is supposedly locked down, there is surely a lot going on these days! So how do we respond, both individually and as a society, to the current spate of health, environmental, racial and other challenges that confront us?
There have been, to date, more than 200 million recorded cases of COVID-19 around the world, and 4.33 million resultant deaths that we know of. Canada’s count stands at 1.45 million cases and more than 26,000 deaths. Anyone following the news knows that the virus has been dealt with, or not, in a variety of ways, as Canadians brace for a fourth wave.
Our response to COVID-19 has not been without controversy. Credible debates include how to balance our health and economy, how to deliver education to our youth in a pandemic and how to roll out a safe opening of society.
On another front, the United Nations recently released an update from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on the state of the world’s environment. This comes at a time when humanity is experiencing a spike in heat waves, wildfires, drought and, at the same time, storms and floods. These disasters are not limited to any one geographic area, as North America, Europe, India, China, Australia and many others are being severely affected. Just ask a Manitoba farmer, or a British Columbia senior, or a northern Prairie Indigenous community, all dealing with drought, heat and fire.
If COVID-19 or climate change don’t bring down governments or put pressure on corporations, then surely a rise in prominence of racial inequality, both historic and current, will do so. This may be felt most in North America at the present, with the discovery of children’s unmarked graves at former residential schools or the highly publicized oppression and murder of racial minorities by police in the U.S., but it is a wider and deeper problem than that.
Beyond, or along with, the above three huge issues, you could add growing authoritarianism in the world, never-ending conflict (these days particularly highlighted in Afghanistan), ongoing gender-based oppression faced by women in the workplace and at home, the refugee crisis . . . I could go on, but it is a huge mountain that we need to climb. Some, of course, would argue that there is no mountain, that it is all an exaggeration or a hoax. But as I said earlier, I am focusing on credible debates.
So, what do we do? The IPCC report acknowledged that the climate change scenario, no matter how factual, runs the risk of disempowering people, of making them feel there is no solution and that they may as well give up taking any action. How does a person stop a glacier from melting? Dealing with historical realities is no less difficult. How do we deal with systemic racism built into the very fibre of our development?
On all of these issues, three paths have been set out – individual action, technological advancement and policy change. Our advanced scientific and technological society has shown it is able to confront global challenges that arise. For COVID-19, we’ve relatively quickly created vaccines that have proven to be effective while engineering equipment such as PPE, sanitizers and masks that have contributed to people’s safety. To fight climate change, many corporations, campuses and organizations are working on alternative forms of transportation, heating and cooling, and more.
Policy change is another way to improve our prospects for a long, healthy and peaceful life on this planet. An individual may turn off a light to save electricity or purchase organic products to improve their lifestyle or keep harmful chemicals out of the environment, but a government or a corporation making this kind of commitment makes a much greater difference.
We as consumers may buy fair trade products, but trade practices reformed at a global level will alleviate poverty more effectively. There may be ways to improve education, health and community life via technology but policy change by governments to ensure equality, and individual commitment to change our mindsets, is paramount. As they say, where there’s a will, there’s a way!
What can we do in our daily lives to confront the challenges that face us? We can adopt those new technologies that are coming forward. Make our next car hybrid or electric. Get our vaccine shot. Buy fair trade. Push Earth- and people-centred policies. Let your elected representatives know that you are concerned about the issues. With a federal election on the horizon and changes coming at the provincial level, this is an opportunity.
Keep an open mind and rethink the things that you take for granted. Don’t let the line blur between fact and bias. Don’t make assumptions based on race, on language, on gender, on age, on convenience. Embrace the challenges that face us.
Zack Gross is Board Chair of The Marquis Project, a Manitoba-based international development organization.
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