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Let’s panic about other crises, too!

COVID-19 has shown other problems than should be addressed sooner rather than later.
Illustration: Alex Stallsworth · The Sentry

Capitalism and climate change play a big part in the coronavirus pandemic

COVID-19 came seemingly out of nowhere. Once confirmed in the United States, people rushed to stock up on groceries, hand sanitizer, alcohol, cannabis, guns, and for some reason toilet paper. Considering other critical problems faced by society, such as climate change and poverty, people should start redirecting their panic to the overarching issues. 

In those early days, it felt almost like an apocalypse was imminent. With conflicting information from the government and media outlets, people began to panic like never before. As airlines cancelled flights, local businesses closed overnight, and the stock market erased all of the gains under the Trump administration. 

While previous diseases like the plague or smallpox took substantial bites from populations throughout history, not in the last 100 years has the world endured an outbreak so critical. In the 1918-1920 influenza pandemic, commercial flight did not exist yet and China was not even a consolidated country. With the uncertainty and fear behind this novel coronavirus, panicking is a valid response to the situation. While the idea of a pandemic seemed distant before, people now have to grapple with that reality. the reality of an “unseen enemy,” as described by a 2017 CNN documentary. COVID-19 presents a new challenge with an unknown outcome. 

Humanity faces a number of existential threats, many of which COVID-19 lays bare. In countries like the United States, funding for necessary institutions dwindled over the years to the point where the current government response cannot keep pace with this widespread emergency. Many in the US live paycheck-to-paycheck, so they cannot afford to take weeks or months off work. A substantial number of people also have no healthcare coverage, and even those who do struggle with the costs of bills and prescriptions. A significant amount of workers deemed “essential” have lower wage positions at supermarkets, fast food restaurants, cafés, and other locations. Capitalist economics relies on these positions, driving increasing income inequality. 

If the government removes these financial burdens, class will not determine mortality.  

Racism also needs the same attention. According to communication from CU Denver, students and faculty of Asian descent disturbingly face increased harassment and discrimination. New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio Cortez also recently called out Amazon for engaging in a racist smear campaign against one of their own employees after they led a walkout. 

Like most catastrophes, the poor will likely face the worst of this pandemic and economic collapse unless the government radically changes course. Some of the same mechanisms that allowed COVID-19 to jump from animals to humans and spread around the world have oppressed certain populations for generations. 

After the scourge of COVID-19 fades into memory, society will have to face other huge challenges threats like climate change. Scientists believe that global warming along with globalization increases the likelihood of diseases spreading from the wilderness into humans around the world. Given that climate change impacts different regions over a long period of time, it seems almost like an intangible problem. With the devastating effects of rising sea levels, flooding, drought, wildfires, and stronger hurricanes and winter storms, people should turn their focus to the overarching problem. 

Capitalism drives the environmental destruction that likely allowed for this virus to move so rapidly. As a result of this increasingly fractured economic system, people cannot financially afford to stay home and avoid the disease.  

Society should demand a different approach to government that values the welfare of all people regardless of class or other factors. Environmental issues have to be taken seriously, as the risk of natural disasters and even more pandemics grows every day. Those in poverty usually endure the worst of these events, and unless the economic structure changes it only get worse. The government and people in general needs to listen to scientists and focus on the existential threat posed by the hydra of climate change and its many heads. 

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