Global carbon emissions continue to rise, 1 rates of global biodiversity loss continue to increase, 2 and social and economic inequalities continue to widen. 3 Significant global social movements such as Fridays for Future are declaring this situation an “emergency,” regarding it as a crime against humanity in which political and business leaders stand accused of ignoring the plight of current and future vulnerable people.
This association between environmental crises and social injustice is now widely accepted. Many feel that time is running out for incremental approaches to prove effective and that there is an inescapable need for a radical, transformative change that combines sustainability and justice.
The COVID-19 pandemic provides a potentially crucial setting for how such a change might play out. The urgency to rebuild shattered economies is pressuring leaders to fire up their economies again. On March 26, 2020, for example, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced temporary deregulation of enforcement of air pollution standards, 4 an action intended to ease financial costs for businesses but at the price of increasing health risks for vulnerable populations. On the other hand, this time of systemic breakdown provides an opportunity to rebuild societies in new ways, mobilizing new understandings of vulnerability and resilience, and exploring ways to build and connect the potentially transformative networks of compassion and resistance emerging in neighborhoods and communities around the world. We must ensure that vigorous efforts to resolve environmental crises are connected to our resolve to tackle social crises such as racism. […]