Friday, April 24, 2020

Equity & ecology in a post-pandemic world

On this 50th anniversary of Earth Day, I think about my sister’s prescient and intentional decision to live a life that is marginally dependent on global systems, as locally sourced as possible, and with as light a carbon footprint as she can muster.

My sister lives on a high mesa in Utah. Her home sits 16 miles up Sand Flats Road, just outside of Moab. She has no power, no water, no cable or WiFi, or connections to the normal things that link most of the rest of us to greater dependence on global systems.

She built the house herself. Since she had no power and everything had to be sawed by hand, she designed the house using standard-sized lumber which required minimal sawing.

She carts water in large containers up from Moab. She wastes none of it, intimately aware of the physical cost of each drop. Two solar panels supply light and power to recharge her cell phone. And all her possessions — her clothes, furniture, kitchen containers, plates and utensils — are from thrift stores or are found objects.

She has always said that she “is just living the life the rest of us are going to have to get used to.” For her, there was no painful transition to the COVID-19 shutdown,other than spending as little money as possible, since much of her income is derived from people coming in from outside the area.

While we can’t and shouldn’t all live like my sister, we can all take a hard look at the decisions we make, and how those of us engaged in economic development turn our minds and resources towards intentional recalibration — in federal and state policy and in on-the-ground investment.

We are all experiencing the economy unraveling. But it turned out to have been a very fragile economy based on ever-growing consumption and a zero-sum approach, where a few at the top gain at the expense of so many. The fissures in the global economic system have cracked wide open, revealing two deep flaws — inequity and ecological havoc.

Heart-breaking data and stories are emerging about the toll of the virus as it exposes structural inequalities. People who actually make the economy run — the drivers, the grocery store and food supply workers, low-paid health care workers, people it turns out EVERYONE else depends on — who were already in deeply precarious positions, are now being displaced in droves.

While the virus infects people regardless of wealth, the poor and people of color have been disproportionately impacted. According to Nicky Hylton-Patterson, Director of the Adirondack Diversity Initiative, Coronavirus is exposing the toll that systemic racism and oppression has had on our nation. In her upcoming blog “The Color of Climate Change: Coronavirus & the vulnerable among us,” she argues that “systemic inequities have left track marks on the bodies and lives of communities of color, the poor, differently abled, and those whose identities have positioned them for marginalization. These track marks of inequity exposed by Coronavirus, are symptoms of the historic segregation of the racial, ethnic and low-income or poor Other. The outcome: People of color and low income communities have been forced to reckon with chronic illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease and asthma, exacerbated by the cycle of decreasing air quality and limited access to comprehensive healthcare, making them exponentially more vulnerable to COVID-19.”

Additionally, rural communities — those that ANCA directly serves — are at risk. Rural economies were the hardest hit by the 2008 recession and the slowest to recover. Businesses were hit especially hard — in the first four years of the recovery, counties with a population less than 100,000 lost 17,500 businesses, compared to economies in counties over one million people which added 99,000. COVID-19 will only exacerbate these pressures; the shutdown of commerce has already put small businesses, key drivers of rural economies, into a tailspin.

At the same time, a nearly shuttered economy has dramatically reduced carbon emissions and air pollution, showing us what a world could look like when giant steps to reduce dependence on fossil fuels have happened. The skies above Los Angeles are clear. The air pollution in major global cities is much lower.

This is a time to reconsider what is important to us. Equity and ecology need to be front and center in every decision we make: how we vote, where we invest whatever resources we have, the policies that we call on our elected representatives to implement, the programs that need to be in place to prevent a crisis like this from happening again. All of these are critically important decisions.

Equity and ecology. Those are front and center as ANCA maps our five-year plan.

We strive to grow a New Economy that is inclusive, just and resilient — an economy that is bolstered by these ideals:

Local Ownership. Our short-term efforts are focused on helping local businesses survive.   Longer term, the high multiplier benefits of local businesses buying from one another strengthen local economies.

Local Investment. Short-term efforts focus on people changing default habits that support global giants like Amazon to supporting local businesses like local farms and Main Street businesses. Longer term, it means that people, the government, finance institutions, philanthropists, and nonprofits are all working to invest locally.

Economic Diversity. How self-reliant is our economy? The more self-reliant we are — on local food, energy, water and finance — the less global disruptions will impact us.

Social Equity. Is our local economy leaving anyone behind? Does our community ensure that all its members across race, class, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, national origin, age and ability are able to fully participate in the local economy? ANCA’s programs strive for inclusivity and embrace social innovations like cooperative ownership.

Regeneration. Is our economy living within its natural means? For goods like food, water, wood, and paper, we will need to bring inputs of our diverse economies in line with what our local ecosystems can provide in renewable ways.

There will be huge pressure on us all to return to “normal” as quickly as possible. But from a moral perspective, we should not return to normal. And from a survival perspective, we cannot return to normal. What comes out of this crisis needs to be different — and better.

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Kate Fish is the Executive Director of Adirondack North Country Association (ANCA):

9 Responses

  1. Sherry says:

    Well said, Kate. It seems we needed to be hit on the head with a 2 x 4…

    • Linda Carela says:

      Thank you so much for writing this Kate. All of these issues are on my mind every day.

  2. Judson Witham says:

    Every bit of Your Sisters life depends on heavy industry , even the hand saws , jugs and truck or suv She Uses. The standard dimensional lumber She used all SEMI’d in etc etc etc. The Gas and Oil the Solar Panels all heavy industry. I am from Glens Falls and Lake George. I traveled and built Skyscrapers and lots of other projects from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

    The scam known as Cpmmunal Forests and so called Earth Day along with the Green New Deal is very simple …. It requires a diferent set of Government Tyrants to impose. Like Communism and Capitalism most all Government BLOWS.

    See The Adirondacks Conspiracy a Royal Hustle

    • Boreas says:

      Civilization does have its drawbacks. We can choose to use up our natural resources as quickly as possible, or do our part try to make them last. Just like fresh water, as they are depleted they become more valuable. Each of us make these choices every day. When resources are gone, they are gone. Let’s hope mankind starts choosing conservation over extraction.

      • Robert DiMarco says:

        Fantastic article. Still no matter what we do it comes down to the sheer numbers if us Humans. There is no solution till we reduce our numbers. I did what i could by being cbc. Please others do your part. My natural world is a truly special place with or without us. It is up to us.

  3. John R says:

    Interesting article but I would really like to read more about your sister.

  4. Vanessa says:

    Prescient and important! Keep articles like these coming.

    Kate, your sister is correct. As a millennial, I know 0 people my age who believe our futures will be as prosperous or safe as our parents – and this is in America, where all of the unfettered economic growth was supposed to provide us with the best standard of living in human history.

    Instead, we are in debt, we have less to provide for our families, and even though we are largely safe from COVID, the economic crash will hurt us the most. This article very astutely points out that those who are non-white and poor of any age will suffer most severely.

    There is no “going back to normal.” While the future is uncertain, it is unlikely that we will completely eradicate COVID-19, and common viruses mutate. Unfettered growth is probably done for *quite a while, and so therefore is the privileged lifestyle that some of us were used to.

    I personally do not grieve a lifestyle that has put me and so many I know so completely cut off from local connections and connections to nature. The planet cannot sustain it and in my opinion, ultimately neither can we.

    We will learn from your sister and the many pioneers like her, who are working to slowly gain wisdom that “modern” American society has lost. My hope is that we learn fast enough to prevent ecological collapse.

  5. Todd Eastman says:

    Kate, please pass a Vermont howdy on to your sister from Todd and Kirsten.


  6. JohnL says:

    You said your sister derives her income ‘primarily from people coming in from outside the area’. Unless I’m being too nosy, I’m just curious what she does for a living.

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