On December 31, 2019, the first reported case of the highly contagious novel coronavirus COVID-19 was reported in Wuhan, China. Within just three months of the first recorded case of COVID-19, the breaks were violently slammed on ordinary life. Schools and businesses closed, stocks nose-dived, and tens of millions of people were left unemployed as governments scrambled to pull their economies back together through unprecedented levels of fiscal and monetary policy. The COVID-19 pandemic has triggered a worldwide humanitarian crisis with an inconceivable toll on human life. As of August 11, 2020 COVID-19 has claimed over 735 thousand lives, making it the worst pandemic in over a century.
The economic recession following the pandemic has shed light back on existing socio-economic issues within American society. Millions of Americans have lost their health insurance, can no longer afford to pay their rent, and now live without the CARES Act unemployment benefits which have recently expired. While the working class struggles to keep its head above the water with the sudden halt of unemployment benefits and incoming rent payments, billionaires have seen an extreme increase of their wealth as the price of their stocks soared after the initial government instituted lockdown. This phenomenon of utter inequality has compelled even wall street broker and “Mad Money” host Jim Cramer to recognize it as “one of the greatest wealth transfers in history”. It is safe to say that the socio-economic problems perpetuated by the pandemic have reignited the fire of the progressive movement, which took a huge blow back in early March following Bernie Sanders’ withdrawal from the Democratic Primary. Calls for Medicare For All, which have been supported by a majority of Americans even before the pandemic, wealth redistribution, and stronger social safety nets have become much louder during the crisis.
In the midst of the raging pandemic, the murder of George Floyd in May gave sudden rise to worldwide Black Lives Matter protests demanding long-overdue racial equality and comprehensive police reform. In what can only be described as a dismal violation of the right to free speech, many BLM protests have been met with tear gas, beatings, and unconstitutional deployments of federal troops in various U.S. cities, causing them to escalate even further. People of color in the United States have also been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus pandemic and new studies show that federal aid has “favored white households, leaving many people of color at the risk of being evicted” as many conservative, southeast states have not extended their eviction moratoriums. It is painfully clear that these unprecedented times have further exposed the rampant disease of racial inequality, which has plagued American society for centuries.
While many are crossing their fingers for a speedy return to normality, another, greater crisis ominously lurks in the background: Climate change. Scientists have underestimated the severity of the climate crisis and now predict that we are less than a decade away from irreversible damage being done to our environment. The United Nations also forecasts that there will be 200 million environmental migrants by 2050, with other estimates placing the number at a staggering 1 billion. To put that into perspective, 5.2 million refugees threw Europe into an unprecedented crisis back in 2015, which demonstrated our unpreparedness for such large-scale migration. Another 2017 UN study has estimated that most environmental migrants will come from poor, disadvantaged areas that are far more vulnerable to future environmental disasters climate change would intensify such as floods, storms, and droughts (see page 13). The same study also concluded that economic losses (calculated via % of GDP) attributable to weather-related disasters made worse by climate change have been up to 25 times greater for lower-income countries than for higher-income countries between 1995 and 2015 (see page 23). There can be no serious discussion about climate change without a discussion about worldwide inequality which will certainly worsen the effects of an already devastating climate crisis.
We are on a saddle point in human history, we can tip towards much-needed reform of our grossly unequal, discriminatory institutions and take serious responsibility in reversing climate change or face unprecedented levels of human misery stemming from unregulated capitalism and environmental disasters. The power to make this decision rests in our hands. With tens of millions struggling from economic hardship and less than a decade left to save the world from environmental disaster, the choices we make today through our democratic participation will likely determine the very future of humanity.
How to help today:
Register to Vote: www.usa.gov/register-to-vote
Climate Change Activism: www.sunrisemovement.org
Progressive Activism: progressive.international