This article is part of TPM Cafe, TPM’s home for opinion and news analysis. It is a part of Covering Climate Now’s week of coverage focused on Climate Solutions, to mark the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. Covering Climate Now is a global journalism collaboration committed to strengthening coverage of the climate story.
It will be months, perhaps years, before we know the full impact of COVID-19 on our families, communities and country. In my home state of Georgia, we’ve exceeded 20,000 cases and have more than 800 deaths. With only a fraction of the available tests needed to adequately track this virus, officials cannot predict with certainty what is to come — when this virus will hit its peak, when hospitals should prepare for an even larger surge of critically-ill patients and how to best prevent further spread to our most vulnerable communities.
This novel coronavirus crisis has also exposed inequities that make this pandemic deadlier than it had to be. Closures of hospitals throughout Georgia had already limited rural communities’ life-saving health care access, and the additional strain of this pandemic has put even more patients at risk. Throughout the south, black and brown Americans are contracting and dying from COVID-19 at far higher rates than white Americans. Right here, in my home state, people of color are disproportionately affected by this disease — in early April, Albany, Georgia had the fourth-highest rate of coronavirus cases in the world.
Like our fellow Americans, I am heartbroken by this ongoing tragedy. But I am also angry because, to a large extent, this devastation was preventable.
We live each day with the effects of state and national leaders’ failures and abdication of responsibility. President Trump has repeatedly downplayed this threat and blithely used the White House’s daily briefings to promote misinformation and outright lies to cover his administration’s failed response. Closer to home, Georgia’s governor claimed he was unaware the virus could be spread asymptomatically — despite repeated warnings from the CDC throughout the month of February and March. His decision forcing localities to open their beaches has put communities like Tybee Island at risk. His failure to expand Medicaid puts lives at risk. And his decision to reopen barbershops, tattoo parlors, nail salons, gyms and restaurants while coronavirus cases continue to rise is dangerously incompetent and will lead to the loss of lives in our state.
By refusing to act on these warnings, to listen to scientists and experts, to adequately prepare for this crisis, those elected to lead have faltered.
This week marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, and I am hopeful that, unlike what has unfolded in the coronavirus pandemic, our leaders will once again put science before political gamesmanship as we face another looming threat: the consequences of climate change.
In Georgia, rising sea-levels threaten our coastline and our cities from Savannah to St. Marys, and rising global temperatures increase the potential for wildfires throughout our state. Increased risk of natural disasters affects every county and community, from our farmland to our business towers. Harmful pollution chokes our children and stymies progress. Climate change also reveals the same disparities the COVID-19 epidemic has, with our most marginalized communities paying the highest price for negligence and poor planning. President Trump, who has called climate change a hoax promoted by the Chinese, once again shirks his obligation to stand for all Americans. But we can and must stand with one another.
Thankfully, we still have an opportunity to listen to experts and take strong action on climate change before the worst overwhelms our best intentions. And, if we do, we can not only prevent a crisis, but we can boost our economy and create millions of clean energy jobs here in America.
Throughout my time in the Georgia General Assembly, I proudly co-sponsored bills to clean up hazardous waste, protect streams and waterways, offer tax credits for hybrid and low-emission vehicles, protect state parks and promote clean energy. But more must be done. Staving off catastrophe will demand bold action from leaders at the local, national, and global level, across party lines, and from everyday people here in Georgia and across the country.
That is why I am honored to be part of a bipartisan coalition in World War Zero, a campaign dedicated to bringing people together, mobilizing millions of Americans, and pushing policymakers to take the critical steps we need to prevent a climate calamity.
When I ran for governor in 2018, our grassroots campaign held conversations with individual voters, one at a time, to inspire change — and we transformed participation in Georgia’s politics. Similarly, by the end of 2020, World War Zero aims to drive 10 million conversations across the country — transforming our nation’s commitment to change. Conversations not just with people already convinced and taking action, but with those who may need to learn a bit more, or hear from someone different, before they agree with the need to act. Person by person and community by community, I am confident that we can build the grassroots army we need to take on this global challenge and win this war for our nation’s future.
We can’t turn back the clock and undo our leaders’ tepid, dangerous response to the coronavirus crisis. But we can shine a spotlight on those who failed to act, learn from their mistakes, and mobilize Americans to prevent history from repeating itself. This pandemic has shown us how important it is to keep our friends, families, and loved ones safe. Let’s do right by them and prevent the next disaster.
Stacey Abrams is a politician, lawyer and author who served in the Georgia House of Representatives from 2007 to 2017, and as the minority leader for the last six years of her time in the state legislature. Abrams was the Democratic Party’s nominee for governor in Georgia’s 2018 gubernatorial election. She is the Founder of Fair Fight, Fair Fight Action, Fair Count, and the Southern Economic Advancement Project.