In the midst of the three major crises we are facing right now — the pandemic, the economy and racism — we cannot lose sight of the overarching reality of global warming that is defining our times. If we do not address this reality, and quickly, then all else is lost.
All of the other battles are skirmishes in the context of this fight.
The qualities we need in order to engage in this fight include a respect for the science, the ability to bring people and interests together to work through their differences and arrive at common solutions and the confidence to move forward resolutely to challenge things as they are now. These qualities apply to each one of us as well as our leaders.
Based on the science of what we have set into motion, there is no going back. No one person or entity has all of the answers in any given locality or situation – we must embrace the creative synergy of actively working together to figure things out. None of us can retreat to our comfort zones or accept half measures that cannot get the job done.
In our current crises we are forced to demonstrate these same qualities that we also must use to fight global warming.
Fortunately, the upcoming election presents each of us with the opportunity to assess the candidates for key offices and to support and work with those with the qualities we need.
Unfortunately, the period between now and January, when those who are elected take office, also presents the opportunity for mischief and worse by those whose records show they cannot make the cut.
Right now I am most concerned that, at the state level, our governor will succumb to the temptation to sacrifice the best interests of our citizens to the pressure to win at all costs.
He repeatedly states that he will not let this happen. Yet, at the same time, he continually makes decisions that defy the science and reopen sectors that are clearly fraught with risk to our vulnerable population.
Schools are the current ground where this battle is being played out. Community spread of the coronavirus is continuing to increase. The rational conditions for health and safety that have been set by a major state advocacy group and by his opponent for governor cannot possibly be met for the upcoming semester. Yet our governor has gone ahead and authorized the state and county superintendents to come up with plans while he also acknowledges that any reopening now entails risks to all of us.
I cannot envision a universe where this will be OK. Just in the past few days, new stories have come out about this issue. These stories address things like the fact that children 10 years old and older transmit the virus just like adults; masks are a critical factor in protecting us and each other; and building ventilation affects the way that droplets are spread. Reports show that even mild cases can cause lifelong effects.
A local superintendent in Arizona is torn between, on the one hand, losing state funds if he does not reopen his school, and, on the other, protecting the children, staff and their families in his community. He is already grieving the loss of a teacher who succumbed to COVID-19 after working as part of a three-person team that met to produce content for summer school and did everything they were advised to do in order to protect themselves.
A school in Indiana identified a student with COVID-19 who was already in the classroom on the first day of school. Temperature checks cannot screen for people without symptoms. Schools are debating how many cases they can have before closing.
All of this is a recipe for chaos. We cannot even protect all of our churches and nursing homes. How can we “run to the fire” in thousands of classrooms?
Who will take care of our children who alternate different days in school even within the same family? How will we staff our schools when vulnerable staff become sick or choose to opt out? How stable will our workforce be in the absence of universal high-quality child care and paid family leave when schools are open one day and closed the next? Who will replace the large number of grandparents who are already taking care of grandchildren and are at the highest risk for the coronavirus?
My mind goes to a saying that I learned in my first year of working around the Capitol: Fat possums move at midnight. As I came to understand this concept, it means that special interests bring a bill up out of nowhere and get it passed in the wild environment that traditionally occurred during the last few days of the legislative session.
Over the years it appeared that some legislators and lobbyists became masters of navigating that environment and may even have fostered the chaos in order to prevail.
We know that there are currently movements in our country and outside of it that are likewise fostering chaos in order to stay in power. Sending national law enforcement to threaten and attack peaceful protesters and messing with the U.S. Postal Service are only two manifestations of this movement. Going on vacation instead of moving ahead with federal supplements and laws to protect basic needs only adds fuel to the fire.
As a good, lifelong Democrat, I voted for Jim Justice for governor in the 2016 general election even though I supported one of his opponents in the primary. There is no way that he can earn my vote this time around now that he is a Republican who strongly supports this president, with all that he stands for.
I also voted in this year’s primary for one of the opponents of our current Democratic candidate for governor. As I have learned more about Ben Salango, I am convinced that he has the track record and qualities we need not only to get us through these current crises but also to engage our best minds in the fight against global warming. I will vote for him at the earliest opportunity in order to ensure that my ballot is counted.
At the same time, our state needs this governor to stand up to the pressures and do the right thing to protect every one of us, regardless of party. He has assumed unprecedented power that he can still use for the good during whatever time he remains in office. He acknowledges the serious risks to our people of reopening our schools. He needs to summon up the courage to stand tall and protect us.
Betty Rivard, of Charleston, is a retired social worker and planner for the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources.
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