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Op Ed: Earth Day in the Era of "The Great Pause"

Updated: May 2, 2020

“The roaring 20s materialized alongside the rise of the consumer economy. Paradoxically enough, a century later and 2020 will need to be revolutionized by the polar opposite—degrowth.

Quoting myself from a paper I submitted in December 2019... 4 months later and its almost too relevant.

This Earth Day is far different than all that I have ever experienced. Although it leaves me doing the opposite of what I love to do (exploring Mother Nature in all her beauty), or what I would be happiest doing today (at the park picking up garbage with my pals, (insert cheesy nostalgic pic here)),

this Earth Day may be the most significant one my generation will ever experience. In my eyes, this Earth Day represents a catalyst for environmental transformation. And by this, I am not talking about the short-term effects of decreased pollution levels and examples of supposed “re-wilding” that utopian environmentalists portray in COVID-19 media. I am talking about a radical transformation in society—similar to the one we are experiencing right now.

At the whim of capitalism is ecological dependency. As nations strive to become “modern” societies, industrialization has resulted in the rapid exploitation of non-renewable resources, exponentially rising green house gas emissions and exacerbating impacts of climate change. This nonsensical cycle of unsustainable growth and hidden spillovers is a manifested byproduct of failures in capturing environmental and social costs within the market. To add to the mess, the combination of climate change and economic inequality calls for a recipe of ultimate injustice. Cruelly, fragile states that have contributed the least to global greenhouse gas emissions are the most vulnerable populations to the environmental, social and economic repercussions of climate change.

This pandemic has exposed the inherent flaws in our global economic system, highlighting its structural inequalities and the systemic failures that have perpetrated oppression amongst marginalized communities. Most importantly, COVID-19 has unveiled global consciousness to the interconnectedness of humanity and the resulting necessity to trust science and policy in the movement towards global resiliency. As incessant economic growth and accelerated productivity come to a halt for the first time in history, some have had the great privilege of slowing down and taking time to enjoy the small things in life. Learning new hobbies, cleaning, cooking, gardening, resting, reading, spending time with family, volunteering, catching up with old friends. This remarkable period of global stagnancy has given society the time to debrief about what parts of “normal” we want to continue with from our past as we evolve into a post COVID-19 world.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez recently tweeted, “Resistance to revolutionary policy was never really about a lack of money, or capacity or logistics. It was always about power and a lack of political will” #AOC

Today, some political leaders have shown us that progressive policy is easily achievable, while others choose to prioritize the economy, bigotry, racism, xenophobia and anti-communist propaganda to further divide the people during a global pandemic.

We need to focus our energy on the strides we can take during this time of great uncertainty. We are left with two choices. The choice to go back to “normal”, repeating a history towards climate catastrophe and structural inequality-- or the choice to reinvent our normal and take advantage of this time to implement global systemic change. The Green New Deal might have seemed like radical policy when the societal norm was an inverse of what this order proposed, but COVID-19 has made nothing seem radical anymore. What is normal?

This Earth Day, the University of Guelph’s motion to fully divest from fossil fuels within a 5-year period was passed with a majority vote at today’s Board of Governors meeting (how fitting!). Fossil Free Guelph, a progressive student-led movement, left today winning after 7 years of unending dedication to the divestment campaign, alongside inexhaustible amounts of passion and collective action towards social and environmental justice. However, today’s wins are not without its faults. Uncertainties lie in the Board of Governors implementation of late amendments to the motion, resulting in the creation of loopholes in the University’s commitment to full divestment from fossil fuels. Although there is still much work to be done, this moment has ignited a pathway for U of G to hold itself accountable to the principles they support through their investments, a key step towards global environmental solidarity and systemic change.

Photo: Fossil Free Guelph rally January 20th 2019

As an optimist, I have good faith that society will come together for the collective good, be stewards to the environment, use science to inform policy, re-distribute wealth to provide livelihoods, protect the most vulnerable, and continue to acknowledge that frontline workers are the foundation of our society.

But most of all I have faith that society will rise above the hate.

In every crisis lies an opportunity. Profound lessons lie in the aftermath of this pandemic-- an opportunity to reinvent our current system of exponential growth and consumption to one focused on interconnectedness, clean growth, holistic living, and resilient planning.

Stay hopeful.

What side of history do you want to be on after this?

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