While the world and our communities are, understandably, prioritizing the global COVID-19 pandemic, there is another global crisis that we can’t forget: the climate crisis.  


Even as we are fighting this pandemic, let us also remember there is a lot of work needed to fight climate change, and to move our economy towards a greener, truly sustainable future. On both fronts, we need to fix the system – and that starts with local efforts.


Earlier this month in our province, the Ford Conservatives began a temporary suspension of key parts of the province’s Environmental Bill of Rights as part of the declaration of emergency, claiming that it may interfere in our capacity to respond to the pandemic. 


CUPE Ontario’s 280,000 members are raising the alarm bells about this move to weaken environmental protection and oversight rules. We are concerned that this will allow the government to advance projects and laws of all kinds, even those unrelated to COVID-19, that would harm our environment. It’s unacceptable to suspend such critical rules in the first place – and it’s especially unacceptable to use this crisis and the goodwill of Ontarians who are struggling with a health and economic crisis to usher in such damaging measures. 


We should, instead, look to indigenous communities, who have continued to exemplify the power and meaning of being traditional stewards of the land. Earlier this month, for just one example, Grassy Narrows First Nation made important strides in its fight against mercury poisoning by achieving a contract with Canada to provide full funding to build a Mercury Care Home. But there’s more work to do – Grassy Narrows continues to seek long-term funding for the full services required at the facility for people suffering from its debilitating impacts. 


This local work connecting the mistreatment of the land to its effects on people is akin to reports that the global climate crisis is a key factor in the pandemic we’re all facing together. While the research is still underway, a growing number of experts are speculating that habitat loss and decreases in biodiversity – which are impacted by climate change – increases the spread of pathogens and the likelihood of pandemics.


The developing research underscores what many of us are realizing more than ever: no individual is disconnected from their surroundings, whether it’s from other people or the broader environment itself.


Today, we must connect our struggles and recognize that the fight against climate change demands the same kind of multi-level response that a global pandemic requires: strong international commitments and coordination, decisive policy at the national level, and action at the local and community level. 


The pandemic also shows that, in urgent times, we need to strengthen investments in public services with the recognition that these are green jobs and engage in a just transition.


The task of defending our earth may appear too big to tackle, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s time to redouble our efforts to, and to recognize that, through collective action, we can make important strides in our workplaces, in our efforts to remind elected representatives of their obligations, and in our communities.