2020 was supposed to be the year where we acted on the climate crisis. It was the fifth anniversary of the Paris climate agreement, the fiftieth anniversary of Earth Day, and the conclusion of a historical decade for climate activism. Instead, it was a year like no other. Fires, hurricanes, and a global pandemic. But now that we’ve left 2020 behind and moved on to 2021, we can take last year as a lesson for moving forward.
We’ve seen what the world can do when faced with a crisis. In the span of a few months, we adapted to wearing masks, working from home, and other new protocols. But without the level of urgency that comes with the title of “crisis,” immediate action can be dismisses as unnecessary. Although targets are set, they are often far off or intangible, and change happens slowly. In order for the climate crisis to be addressed as quickly and effectively as it needs to be, it must be treated like a crisis—both in label and in response.
Over the past year, we’ve also seen the importance of cooperation, education, and unity, not only on a national but a global scale. The lack of unity and coordinated response to COVID-19 in our country resulted in devastating effects. The climate crisis demands that we learn from our mistakes in addressing COVID-19, prioritizing science over politics and partnership over division. Moving forward, the climate response must be coordinated globally and carried out locally through cooperation, education, and unity.
Finally, adapting and rebuilding. This is where the pandemic most obviously intersects with the climate—at the crossroads of stability, equity, and sustainability. On the threshold of economic collapse, we can rebuild our country in a way that works with the environment, not against it. We can continue to adapt and realize that there is always an alternate path. In an age of uncertainty, we can find hope in positive action. Humans are extremely resilient, and when we choose to stand with the planet, we will become more so than ever.
When we look back at the past year, it’s easy to dwell on the negatives. But amid the pain, we can’t forget the value we’ve found. 2020 was not the year we lost, but rather the year we learned. You know what they say—hindsight’s 20/20.
Written by Kaia Olson, Friends of the San Juans’ Intern