2020: Crisis and Connections

As COVID-19 chases us inside and shuts the door behind us, it also shines a bright light on the cracks in our society. People struggle to meet their families’ needs and care for loved ones who are ill, immunocompromised or disabled. They face isolation and uncertainty. Groups of people, including migrant workers and precarious workers, the homeless and low-income renters are especially vulnerable. Health care workers raise the alarm about inadequate supplies and resources. 

Photo by Porapak Apichodilok from Pexels

From our place of anxiety-tinged isolation, many of us are trying to put the threads of potential change together. Networks of care are forming across communities. Activist groups set up online forums and meeting spaces. Parents stockpile books and games to share with their children. We hope that, as a poem by Kitty O’Meara puts it, “when the danger passe[s], and the people [join] together again, they [grieve] their losses, and [make] new choices, and [dream] new images, and [create] new ways to live and heal the earth fully….” (And the People Stayed Home)

COVID-19 is an immediate threat, and action to flatten the curve of disease and protect the vulnerable is critical. Health protocol, including social distancing and self-isolation, is essential to safeguard our families and communities. Our governments must also continue to shift resources to support the health and wellbeing of all. (Please see resources and petition links at the end of this article)

2020 has been a tough year so far, and the pandemic isn’t the first grave threat the world has faced. I see some parallels and some clues for filling the cracks COVID-19 reveals. With a stronger society, we could better withstand future health emergencies, including those created by climate change, which the Lancet health and climate change reports show, poses a serious and ever-mounting health threat. 

To recount some of the crises of 2020, Australia was on fire with over a billion animals lost and hundreds of smoke-related deaths. At the same time, Jakarta flooded with 409K people affected.

Within our own borders, it is often poor, Indigenous and racialized communities who experience the greatest impacts of extractive capitalism that link directly with environmental crisis. For example, Aamjiwnaang (near Sarnia) in Anishnawbe territory, is a chemical valley with toxic leaks, air and water pollution. My own community, York South-Weston, is one of the poorest in the GTA and has one of the highest levels of health-threatening air-pollution. It is long past time for justice for such communities.

Moving along the calendar year, in February, Wetsuweten territory in British Columbia was invaded by RCMP on behalf of the Coastal Gaslink Pipeline (CGL). As of now, CGL continues construction without the agreement of hereditary chiefs, operating man-camps of up to 1000 workers, exempted from the rules about social-distancing and putting local communities at huge risk. See Unist’ot’en Camp for updates.

In response to the Wet’suwet’en crisis, the text below was written but went un-posted. I share it now with the thought that we might see synergies in the ongoing inter-related crisis and their potential solutions.

“What is going on is wrong from whatever angle you look at the situation. It demonstrates a violence that harms in the name of an industry that has already destroyed so much and left still mounting toxic damages behind. It defends a system in which only a few prosper greatly and many suffer.

This at a time when, more than ever, we need practices that prioritize care for animals and nature. Ones that build a system in which all is fairly shared and enough is left intact for all. Practices that are upheld by Indigenous land and water defenders….

Alberta matters! But there are ways to help workers without propping up a sunset industry while committing genocide and placing everyone in the path of oncoming climate chaos. For example, Canada could look to a Just Transition for oil and gas workers and their communities. Societal changes must be quick and comprehensive, so pairing a Just Transition with a Green New Deal that makes sure good jobs in clean energy and low-carbon fields replace those lost, and that no-one is left behind, is imperative.…   

Our leaders must start making choices that honour Indigenous rights and protect the health of future generations. As a wealthy nation, Canada has the power and resources to make these choices. Surely our leaders must summon the imagination and the will to do so!” Read the full blog here.

Late February, in another potential crisis for climate justice, the decision about whether to approve the Teck Frontier, an open pit tar sands mine that would have infringed on Indigenous rights, decimated climate goals, boreal forest and wetlands, loomed. The company unexpectedly withdrew their application, citing the need for the resolve of “[q]uestions about the societal implications of energy development, climate change and Indigenous rights.” (Teck Frontier News Release) Here are excerpts from a second unpublished blog.

“Our government and energy reviewers are asking the wrong questions. They ask: How much fossil fuel infrastructure do we need to supply the world with oil? How can we ensure it gets built?

Better questions would be: How much more oil will new tar sands infrastructure enable? What can we build instead, that ensures more jobs, healthier communities and a stronger long-term economy?….

Canadian government could use its wealth and privilege to transition, to seize the better world inherent in a Green New Deal and provide greater aid to the vulnerable both within Canada and globally….

The Pact for a Green New Deal for Canada is in the works. This workshopped vision of a better world includes:

  • Decolonization: Implementing UNDRIP, FPIC and the 94 Calls to Action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission
  • Transforming transit, energy, housing, agriculture and public services in a way that creates good jobs: a million green jobs plan
  • Creating a more just and equitable society by centering communities that are currently marginalized
  • Full access to public services for all: healthcare, education, childcare
  • Freezing all new fossil fuel projects; redirecting all subsidies to programs and projects that truly serve the good of all
  • Ensuring right of all people to clean air, water, healthy food, safe environment built on connection and community

And a few additions from the M-1 motion that is in parliament right now and needs our support:

  • Guaranteeing jobs with family-supporting wages, enough family and medical leave, retirement security
  • Strengthening and safeguarding workers’ rights: unionization, health and safety, wage standards, antidiscrimination
  • Ensuring affordable and adequate housing as well as economic security

With a vision of a better world, we can stop the current destructive, extractive mandate that rewards the few at the expense of the many. We can make choices for healing, restoration and reparation. We can implement the deep and lasting system changes needed to protect and lift each other up.”

As of March 2020, we face a pandemic. The recent $82 billion dollar emergency response package, while it still needs to be strengthened, shows that when our world is in upheaval, swift and large-scale change is possible. Concurrently though, the Ontario government continues its plans to ramp up natural gas use and push a pipeline through Hamilton wetlands while the federal government quietly throws more money at the TransMountain Pipeline expansion. These actions perpetuate inequities and colonialism, all the while increasing future health threats, including the spread of viruses that are related to the degradation of the climate and the natural world.

In this volatile time, oil prices have collapsed. I’m struck by a phrase Kenney used in reference to Alberta’s fossil fuel industry - were in uncharted territory.” It’s the same one used by meteorologists about three years ago, in response to the changing climate. And the same one used by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives Alternative Federal Budget Proposal, with respect to the combination of the coronavirus and the global oil sell-off.

We now await the federal 2020 budget announcement. We hold our breath, hoping that the political agenda might do an about face, turning toward a more equitable, climate-stabilizing and caring future. If our political leaders respond to this current crisis with a corporation focused oil and gas bailout, our futures are in jeopardy. Instead, we need choices that empower our communities, ensure people are supported through the COVID-19 crisis and lay down a strong, long-term foundation for the future health and wellbeing of all peoples.

To quote Naomi Klein, “In times of crisis, seemingly impossible ideas become possible. But who’s ideas? Sensible, fair ones designed to keep as many possible safe, secure and healthy, or predatory ideas, designed to further enrich the already unimaginably wealthy while leaving the most vulnerable further exposed?” https://theintercept.com/2020/03/16/coronavirus-capitalism/

Let’s work to make sure that the federal budget ensures:

  • Enough supplies are made or acquired, to safeguard the health of the greatest number of people. i.e. tests, ventilators, protection for frontline workers. Here is a Letter template to send to MPs.
  • Shelters and drop-in spaces are considerably expanded.
  • Guaranteed support for those close to insolvency, living hand to mouth or who don’t qualify for adequate benefits and tax breaks. A longer-term strategy to counter precarious, low-wage work, unwaged work and the abuse and marginalization of disabled workers and to fix or replace degraded or privatized social infrastructure.
  • Appropriate climate emergency actions, to reduce the threat of increased viral spread due to global warming and biodiversity loss. Also air pollution, which contributes significantly to death rates.
  • A shift in economic focus from extractive industries to a circular economy of care, a green new deal.
  • A system that does not perpetuate dispossession and violence against Indigenous peoples and the destruction of their lands and culture. A system that centres Indigenous rights and sovereignty. Read about the Red Deal for a deeper analysis.

In a few months time, when we’ve regrouped and recovered as best we can, we could have the safeguards and protections in place to handle future and ongoing emergencies, including the climate emergency. With a Green New Deal, care-based communities and a deepened respect for nature, we could remake our world!

Information and Resources:

Petitions and advocacy for adequate COLVID-19 Responses:

Wet’suwet'en Suporter Toolkit: http://unistoten.camp/supportertoolkit2020/

Green New Deal:

For a deepened perspective: A Red Deal, by Nick Estes, jaobinmag.com, August 2019

Petitions against a corporate oil and gas bailout (and for workers and communities):

Petitions against oil and gas expansion:

Sharing about community responses:

Compassion During Coronavirus, yesmagazine.org, March 19, 2020