Workers World celebrates the historic 50th anniversary of Earth Day. Launched by a mass outpouring of demonstrators in 1970, this day continues to mobilize scientific and coordinated efforts to defend the health of our planet and of us who live here.
Earth Day is still urgently needed as a call to conscience and action. Because at this moment, as the peoples of our globe reel from the viral pandemic of COVID-19, we continue to be battered by catastrophes of climate crisis.
Only a week ago, April 10-11, the U.S. South was hit by a total of 105 tornadoes that spread in a killing arc from Louisiana to North Carolina. Thirty-four people were left dead from a swarm that included Mississippi’s largest tornado on record and 30 others rated “significant,” with winds over 111 mph.
Meteorologists are still trying to determine, through scientific research, the exact relation between climate change and the growing clusters and intensity of tornadoes and the shift in the U.S. to a more southern corridor.
The key words here are “scientific research.” Because the capitalist drive for profit, combined with right-wing ideology, is riding roughshod over progressive scientific solutions — in both climate change and the COVID-19 crisis.
In the current tornado epidemics, people — mostly poor, rural and of color — are losing homes and all possessions at the same time they have lost their jobs due to the economic shutdown accelerated by the pandemic.
Roughly 55 percent of Black people in the U.S. live in the South, where most of the Black and Latinx people in the region exist in deep poverty. (worldpopulationreview.co) The South contains approximately 84 percent of persistently poor counties in the U.S. — counties that have had at least 20 percent of their population in poverty over 30 years. (tinyurl.com/ycouhbxv)
And, as in other parts of the U.S., these people are also suffering disproportionately in the pandemic. In Mississippi, for instance, where African Americans comprise less than 40 percent of the population, they are 72 percent of the state’s COVID-19 deaths.
As people suffer, reactionary U.S. forces stall, thwart or roll back efforts to promote good health, including some safeguards initiated in the earliest years of Earth Day organizing.
The Trump administration is pushing back air quality standards won by environmentalist efforts — in the middle of a health crisis that centers on respiratory failure. In addition to relaxing rules on car emissions, the federal Environmental Protection Agency is now refusing to tighten controls on other kinds of particle emissions.
This double whammy to the climate and to people’s health is happening even as people are dying from the coronavirus in the U.S. at a weekly rate surpassing deaths from cancer, influenza and car crashes, according to the Covid Tracking Project of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (AP, April 19)
At the same time, the right-wing clamors for factories and businesses to reopen, for health safeguards to be dropped — for “business as usual” at any cost, including that of workers’ deaths.
But this pandemic in an age of climate crisis should mark the end of “business as usual” for capitalism.
Any “re-opening of business” should be made contingent on people going back to work safely in ways that create a green and healthy planet. “Back to work” must happen with worker planning and control, living wages, free health care and environmentally healthy workplaces. “Re-opening the economy” should happen only if reparations for past environmental damages–especially those affecting people of color and poor populations–be made part of comprehensive and ongoing “disaster relief.”
These are just some of the transitional demands that can be made and fought for as we move toward a socialist future. We live in a unique historical moment where we can create health — both for people and for the planet. Let us seize the day!