COVID-19, Climate Change and Stewarding a Thriving Natural World
“The Ninth Wave” by Chinese-born artist Cai Guo-Qiang, image by the author, Power Station of Art, Shanghai, 2014
It was my interest in infectious disease that drew me to public health, and my concern for climate change and environmental justice that set me on my current path. During my graduate work, these same interests took me abroad - coincidentally to Guangdong, China where SARS had broken out 10 years prior - to advise on low-impact, climate-adaptive and health-promoting strategies to develop the last developable land in Shenzhen. Standing on the razed land - a cleared settlement - between the shore and forest’s edge, the project became a symbol of the health and environmental challenges of our time. Of the urbanization and deforestation that propagate novel zoonoses. Of the climate crisis and impending sea level rise that will soon overtake coastal developments. Of the displacement of communities and loss of land and cultural ties. And the perverse economics that drive them all.
Now in my tenth year of public health practice, amid the COVID-19 crisis, I find myself frustrated by our lack of progress to address the climate crisis - named the greatest threat to public health in the 21st Century. And I’m fearful that this, COVID-19, is only a harbinger of things to come. Climate change will bring more fires, more floods, more storms, new outbreaks of infectious disease and greater strains on our food, health, economic and community systems - and those who already experience the greatest inequities will bear the greatest impacts.
Yet, the scale of the COVID-19 crisis is outmatched by the scale of our opportunity to transform systems for health and equity, and secure a thriving natural world for all. The disruptive forces of COVID-19 are: inspiring new ways of working and living that decrease our fossil fuel consumption; founding a new imperative for safe, accessible, human-centered public spaces; underscoring issues of environmental justice; reviving interest in green economics; and renewing our appreciation for nature and exploring our world. We, as stewards, have the power to chart a new course: we can change development practices, transition a green economy and address environmental injustices, and co-create a new environmental legacy.
Environmental drivers of pandemics
Leveraging COVID-19 for climate action
Stewarding a thriving natural world
Connecting to our natural world while socially distancing
Sara Ivey, MPH, MURP. Sara is an urban planner and public health practitioner based in the Pacific Northwest. She is a project manager for IP3 and contributing writer for Community Commons.