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Debbie Gibbs: The pandemic’s doorway to the future

Other Voices
Debbie Gibbs

The pandemic with its worldwide sickness, death and economic devastation is very bad but it’s merely a hint of what is coming with climate change. Future catastrophes – drought, starvation, diseases, floods – are likely ahead if we do not adjust our lifestyle and yes, our economy.

The pandemic is teaching us what is vital to our lives, and the consumer’s incredible power to shape today’s economy. The imposed limits on travel and industrial output has seen dramatic improvements in air quality. It is predicted that the shut downs will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 6%. This is a great start on the 7.5% annual reduction we need to achieve to avoid disaster.

Evidently our government can throw enormous amounts of money at a situation that threatens our health and wealth. In the USA, the government has quickly provided over trillions in emergency financial assistance and no doubt many more dollars are forthcoming. So, this is a good time to reconsider how we use these resources, and demand changes — of ourselves, our businesses and all levels of government.

The downsides of the global economy are numerous. A virus can reach us in days (hours?) and we are totally unsuspecting. And while we benefit (maybe) from cheaper imported goods, this occurs because other countries do not provide the same environmental and social safeguards that we have for most American workers (remember the USA outlawed child labor, pollution and hazardous workplaces). The global industrialization that meets our desires ultimately fuels the climate crisis and pollution.

The pandemic gives us the time to reflect and choose a new living standard.

However, pandemic living has helped us define an essential business and employee. Health care workers, farmers, grocers, pharmacists, first responders, utility workers, educators, reporters, etc. are the backbone of our civilization.

While restaurants offer a delightful reprieve from one’s own cooking and cleaning up, Americans spend almost half of their food budget on meals away from home. We can choose to cook at home. Keep in mind that our food system is one the major causes of greenhouse gases from the palm oil obtained by burning carbon-absorbing forests to the pollution of meat raised in inhumane, carbon-producing feedlots.

Conversely, if grow our own produce, we could gain a healthier immune system with the micro nutrients in our soil compared to the soil so degraded from plowing and pesticides used in industrial agriculture. This would also help restore the natural biodiversity such as pollinators, birds and wildlife that actually support the web of life needed by humans and all creatures. We can choose home and/or local food and the farming methods that can capture carbon.

Probably many workers are finding that working from home has some social and environmental advantages. After all, up until the industrial revolution, man always worked at home, and relied on his family for help, while training his children in various trades. Having just one place of business means we need no brick and mortar factory to construct, heat and maintain. And no commute. For many professions, workers can insist that working at home become a common option.

As a nation of consumers, we spend countless dollars on items we really don’t need, or to replace items we could reuse or repair. Buying unneeded items does provide one thing — jobs. Could we choose instead to work in essential jobs? What if we employed local teachers or experts to retrain the unemployed from the retail and hospitality industry in more climate-friendly jobs that what would truly improve our community — broadband installation, local food production, biodiversity landscaping, forest management, home health workers, energy-wise home retrofitting, workforce housing — to name just a few.

What we learn from the larger natural world is that biodiversity means an interdependence that keeps all species alive. But there are Keystone species that are critical for the existence of many other species. Perhaps man could become a Keystone species, instead of, sadly, a parasite.

The pandemic gives us the time to reflect and choose a new living standard. One that is centered on quality, not quantity, utility not extravagance, and happiness not delusion. It’s in our hands, and imagination, to now step out the door.

Debbie Gibbs lives in Nevada City.


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