What humanity's current emergency means for that other one
Climate in the Time of Coronavirus is Grist’s new newsletter, covering all things at the intersection of climate change and the novel coronavirus.
 
Here’s what’s coming:
  • Perspective: Going the distance
  • Q&A: Does biking count as social distancing?
  • Read our latest coverage
  • Welcome distractions: Whale song! Yoga! Lunchtime doodles!
The upside of worry

It’s not easy to look out for each other these days — or so I thought as I rushed to the store to buy a roasted chicken for my mom earlier this month. It was a seemingly innocent task that in the time of coronavirus had suddenly turned macabre. Would I inadvertently bring the virus straight to her doorstep? I was determined not to, since she falls into the age range most vulnerable to complications from COVID-19. So I stepped up my typical sanitizing protocol as I shopped for groceries.

It was my sister’s birthday — her “coronavirus birthday,” as she took to describing it. How do you celebrate in a time like this? We’d debated that question, rejecting our usual dining haunts (this was before the governor of California ordered state residents to stay home) and eventually settling on what we had done growing up: cooking sopes, a favorite dish of my dad’s when he was alive, at our mom’s house.

If you’ve ever made sopes by hand, you know it’s a true labor of love. Mixing the corn masa (dough), shaping the masa disks on the tortilla press, cooking them first on the comal and then frying them in oil — it’s a family affair that requires all hands on deck. In our case my dad always headed that assembly line. Tortillas were his business in Mexico City, where my parents were born, so he knew how to measure exactly the amount of water the ready-made masa harina needed to achieve the perfect masa texture for our Sunday sopes.   

What kept me up later that night was whether any of us — my sisters, my nieces, or nephew — could already be carrying the virus. Would it have been safer just to stay away? 

I consider myself lucky. I now live just a 20-minute drive from my mom. Food has always been how we show our love. On my trips home from college, my dad would always ask, “Mi’ja, what dish should we make this weekend?” Enchiladas Suizas, I’d declare! And so it was. Now, when I’m out shopping and spot delicacies like flores de calabaza (squash blossoms) or chirimoyas, I scoop them up for my mom, who loves simmering the squash blossoms in tomatoes, onions, and chiles. 

So even though a part of me worried about celebrating, it also felt right. The next few weeks will necessarily be more isolating, but even as we maintain the recommended distance from friends, colleagues, and everyone else, there are ways to bridge that space.

We are faced with a deepening health crisis that scientists say may well be linked to environmental destruction. The question is: What will we do? In the short term, it’s heartening to see generosity extended from one stranger to another, and by those willing to help others in this time of need. But as we fight this pandemic, we should remember that the greater battle against global warming is still ahead, and that the same environmental degradation that may have led us to this outbreak is poised to lead to another public health crisis as climate change accelerates.

The same spirit of sisterhood and brotherhood can help us find solutions that address both of these calamities.

(The above vignette is adapted from a longer essay, which you can read here.)

-- Yvette Cabrera, senior staff writer

Your questions answered

These questions were submitted by readers like you. Ask your question here.

1

Can I ride my bike out in the street?

It’s much easier to stay 6 feet away from others on a bicycle than on a bus or the subway. But check local guidelines before going out for a spin: Countries like France, Spain, and Italy have banned cycling (except for urgent matters like groceries or health care) as part of their lockdown measures, with hefty fines for rulebreakers. Still, confinement comes with its own health risks, so most places are currently allowing jogs, walks, and bike rides — just keep your distance!

2

Why isn't anyone acknowledging the role that animal agriculture plays in both climate change and the coronavirus?

Livestock is one of the biggest sources of global greenhouse gas emissions, but as far as we know, they are not responsible for COVID-19 — and that’s probably why you haven’t been hearing much about animal agriculture. Scientists are working on tracking down where the new disease originated, and the prime suspect is bats, potentially by way of pangolins or other wild species. But over millennia, animal agriculture has allowed many infectious diseases to jump to humans: Scientists believe that smallpox and tuberculosis came from similar diseases in cattle, the common cold from a horse virus, and various flu strains from pathogens affecting chickens and pigs.

3

Is the current shutdown of the economy an opportunity to rebuild it into a green economy?

For sure. Consider the economic stimulus package from Congress that’s meant to help our flailing economy. Democrats wanted the bipartisan bill to boost the wind and solar industries (as President Obama’s 2009 stimulus did during the Great Recession), and to require airlines and cruise companies to clean up their acts in order to receive financial help. There’s certainly no shortage of ideas of how a recovery plan could look kind of like a Green New Deal.

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Gimme a break!