In which humanity expresses its humanity
I have to be honest: I spent a lot of time thinking about whether to send this newsletter, whether to stick to the Shift Happens schedule I’ve set for myself. If I did send it, I thought, what would be the right thing to say? What tone should I strike? Like most people I know, I’m finding it hard to focus on much besides the virus currently sweeping our globe and upending our way of life. It’s the vast, frightening, unknowable truth of our current moment, and it seems like it should relegate everything else to the backseat.
But I’ve also been moved by some of the things I’ve seen and experienced over the past couple of weeks, in Seattle and beyond. People everywhere are displaying incredible depths of creativity and generosity and humor and patience, from companies making science classes freely available online to orchestra members convening for a virtual “Ode to Joy.” Humans, it turns out, aren’t so bad after all. Though the dominant narrative of our last few years has been one of anger and divisiveness, most of us actually do want to help each other, educate each other, nurture each other, support each other. We suddenly find ourselves in a global mess, and many of us are committed to getting through it and getting out of it — together.
More honesty: this is where I’m a little worried about striking the right tone. Because, you see, coronavirus reminds me of this other urgent global mess I know. I absolutely do not mean to minimize the gravity of the current threat — frankly, it’s scaring the pants off me. But I can’t help but reflect on the even greater threats posed by climate change. Right now, the world is showing that it can come together to take action in the face of an urgent crisis. When this moment passes, I hope we will remember — and remind each other — just how courageous we can be.
Be well, and be in touch,
— Chip, Grist and Fix Founder
1. Your new hero
“It is our call to give not just hope, but courage.” These are the words of the Reverend Michael Malcom, who is shifting from a career as a pastor into full-time work as an environmental-justice advocate and activist. Based in Birmingham, Alabama, Malcom founded the People’s Justice Council to coordinate faith-based groups around grassroots activism. We reached out to Malcom, a member of this year’s Grist 50, to ask how he’s been responding to this time of COVID-19. He spoke about the importance of his faith and of community.
Q. How are you weathering the coronavirus situation?
A. I’m weathering. My workload has increased to meet the needs of the community. Alabama Interfaith Power and Light has partnered with Love Beyond Walls in Atlanta and Be A Blessing Birmingham to supply portable handwashing sinks for our homeless population. We want to provide the basic necessity of soap and water to an often overlooked and underserved part of our collective community.
Q. What advice do you offer people who come to you for support during this uncertain time?
A. I offer that God can handle our distress. Also, check on one another. We are in a time when we need community. Everyone could use a check-in.
2. Your reading list
When I have time to read for pleasure, I tend to gravitate toward books about politics, climate change, and history (fun, I know). But this month I’m reading something different: a book about politics, climate change, and the future. And they say I never mix things up! If your version of escapism is less Masked Singer and more “incisive social commentary masquerading as sci-fi,” get thee to the Broken Earth series by N.K. Jemisin. It’s a powerful read — and as the prolific Jemisin put it in an interview with The Washington Post, “there’s a cathartic element to reading about people who’ve got it worse or people who are fighting back against things that seem overwhelming.”
3. Your pick-me-up
- YES, CLEAN AIR. Although a deadly, economy-halting virus is literally the worst way to drive down greenhouse-gas emissions … we can at least be a little grateful for cleaner air, can’t we? China’s quarantine efforts have quickly slashed air pollution levels by at least 25 percent, and similar reports are coming out of U.S. cities. And that ain’t nothing — even a short-term reduction in air pollution can lead to improved health outcomes.
- YES, BICYCLING. In big cities like New York, people are passing up public transit and turning instead to everyone’s favorite zero-emission form of transportation — biking! Citi Bike, New York’s public bike-share program, is seeing a 67 percent surge in rides compared with last year. Some cities like Bogotá are even opening up new bike lanes to curb the spread of the virus (and improve air quality while they’re at it).
- YES, SHIPPING CONTAINERS. An international coalition of designers, engineers, and medical experts has developed an open-source design for intensive-care modules made from shipping containers. The medical pods, which will be outfitted with ventilation and biocontainment equipment, can be used solo or connected together in various configurations. The first unit is under construction in Milan, Italy.
4. Your next move
- GIVE TO FOOD BANKS: Food banks across the country are stepping up to meet the challenges of COVID-19, packing preparedness boxes for community members who can’t afford to invest in a year’s worth of TP. Find your local food bank or donate to Feeding America’s national COVID-19 Response Fund.
- SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL RESTAURANT SCENE: Eater compiled this list of relief funds for restaurants and food-service workers in a number of cities. You can also help by getting takeout or buying gift cards for when your favorite spots reopen.
- TAKE A BREAK: Spend some time in the great outdoors. Even where shelter-in-place orders are in effect, most locations are making allowances for “solitary walks” and other outdoor escapes. Go breathe some fresh air, release some endorphins, and relieve some of the stress of being on COVID lockdown.
- STAY IN THE LOOP: Subscribe to Grist’s brand-new newsletter, Climate in the Time of Coronavirus, for all the latest news and musings on the intersection of climate and COVID-19.
5. Your weekend plans
How about this for a weekend plan? Take good care of yourself. Step outside of your living space at least once a day. Reach out to someone you love (or even someone you detest) to see how they are holding up. And if all else fails, check this out. Behold the cuteness!