We find ourselves in a crucible of crises defined by a global pandemic, economic collapse, and systemic racism. UnEarth investigates the influence of environmental degradation on these concentric catastrophes and provides a hopeful vision of a more sustainable future.
Three cascading crises have ensnared the world.
First came COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel SARS-CoV-2 pathogen. Once sequestered to bat populations in the forested foothills of Southern China, this novel pathogen was flushed into a bustling urban market via a trafficked wild animal. In a city just a flight away from international hubs like Rome and Singapore, its proliferation was swift. Half a year later, it has infected millions and killed hundreds of thousands.
Then came the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression. The once seamless infrastructure of the global economy sputtered and collapsed in spectacular fashion. New words such as “essential worker” not only entered the social lexicon but also forced a reckoning with our economic priorities of late. Are the grocery store workers making minimum wage actually more important than the hedge fund managers making millions? COVID-19 rid us of our blinders and has laid bare the exploitative and unsustainable mores of the presiding economic system.
Following the vectors of contagion and economic malaise was an uproar against racial oppression. While the insidious murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery lit the match, the powder keg of structural racism was centuries in the making, most recently being manifested in comparatively steep COVID-19 death rate and high unemployment percentage amongst Black people. It turns out that the virus was not the “great equalizer,” but a magnifier that expedited the bioaccumulation of inequality within the vulnerable body politic.
Buttressing these concentric crises is the more diffuse albeit sinister crisis of environmental degradation. Would COVID-19 have emerged if we had refrained from animal trafficking and nature commodification? Would the economy have collapsed if we had abated the carbon-intensive globalization that not only accelerated climate change but also created the conditions for a lethal virus to spread with ease? Would Black people have died at higher rates if they weren’t subject to environmentally racist polices that strategically located them near asthma-causing (and COVID-exacerbating) power plants? We must make sense of the current crucible of crises so that we can forge a more sustainable, equitable, and compassionate future.
- Noah Herfort: Editor-in-Chief