This pandemic is teaching us how a lack of action endangers others

This post originally appeared in my weekly newsletter, “The MacPherson Missive.” Subscribe for free at: https://jodymacpherson.substack.com/

As another Saturday unfolds in Calgary, I’m home alone and looking for things to safely do that don’t put me at risk of catching COVID-19 (the list is getting smaller by the day).

Hearing about the outdoor art exhibit at the Arts Commons, which is downtown across from Calgary’s City Hall, I had planned to walk there and view the exhibit today.

Then, at some point between enjoying a plate of scrambled eggs and downing about six cups of coffee, I realized I can’t do this because…there’s a bunch of protesters who take over the downtown every Saturday. They gather without masks, without distancing and shout Q-Anon conspiracies, point to chem-trails, claim vaccines cause autism, and say public health orders violate their personal freedom.

I’ve been thinking about these folks almost constantly for a while, being an anxious type of person, and feeling a mix of amazement and anger at their callous disregard for other people’s safety.

Then (and I realize this is a bit controversial) I started thinking there is a parallel between the anti-maskers and resistance to taking action on climate change.

To explain, we know climate change is killing people, too. And to stop it requires all of us taking action, whether it is personal actions like driving less, or collective actions like voting in people who will address climate change (instead of those clinging to the past).

One conservative estimate is that more than 250,000 people may die in the coming decades due to climatic changes each year. Climate change could also force more than 100 million people into extreme poverty by 2030, according to World Bank estimates.

Yet, there are still quite a few people, especially in Alberta, who are barely willing to do even the minimum to address climate change.

I’m seeing unnerving similarities now to the crowd down at City Hall. They are OUTRAGED because they have to wear a small piece of fabric over their nose and mouth under certain circumstances. Many who criticize them will shake their heads and question the morals of these individuals, but perhaps not recognize behaviour relating to climate change may be in a similar vein.

We know there is a lot of discussion about the complexity of vaccine distribution and how we can achieve herd immunity, but this challenge is nothing compared to the effort required of us right now to address climate change. This scares me, given how even minor actions are met with major controversy.

For example, with the announcement of an increase in the carbon tax yesterday, there was an indignant outcry from the Alberta government. Standing at podiums with signs proclaiming they’re “stans” for pipelines, cabinet ministers are virtually marching with bullhorns against any action on climate – like the anti-maskers.

Even worse, taxpayer-funded lawyers are engaged in a losing battle in the Supreme Court with the federal government’s taxpayer-funded lawyers over the tax.

Such a huge waste of our money – all political theatre with no strong legal case.

Not to mention that a carbon tax is among the mildest approaches to the climate crisis that can be taken, so minimally damaging that it’s laughable to see politicians outraged about it. Kind of like being outraged about wearing a mask?

The carbon tax amounts to an increase of 37 cents/litre at the gas pumps and most Canadians will receive the money back as a refund anyway. Seems a small inconvenience to SAVE LIVES.

Meanwhile, citizens claim there is a “war on cars” and protest even the slightest inconvenience (can you say – bike lanes, lowering speed limits, pedestrian safety) in our modes of transportation. This, despite the facts that show our lives and health would be improved if we biked and walked more, drove less and used mass transit. So again, we could SAVE LIVES.

The fossil fuel industry is contributing to what is considered disastrous, existential damage to the planet. It is already killing people in the tens of thousands every year. And it will only get worse if we won’t take the necessary action. It involves more than wearing a mask – much more – but we have to do the right thing.

Once, a while back on my Twitter (pre-pandemic), I asked people what sacrifices they would be willing to make related to climate change. The response was less than encouraging. Most said although they found it an interesting question, they couldn’t see themselves giving up much. They just couldn’t believe their actions were contributing to climate change. They preferred not to think about hurting other people.

It reminds me of one anti-masker who tweeted that she wouldn’t believe people were dying of COVID unless she saw the body bags piling up with her own eyes.

Climate change is like that – we can’t see the body bags piling up right in front of us in most cases, but people are dying nonetheless. When it comes to climate action, don’t be like those anti-maskers promenading perversely on Stephen Avenue in a state of denial. Take action on climate change in any way you can and help save lives.

Jody MacPherson is a professional communicator, commuting cyclist (currently working from home), and is a former fossil fuel enabler.

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