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In This Time of Crisis, We Need to Keep Our Eyes Open

Insights + Opinion
Mike Pence and Donald Trump hold a press conference about the coronavirus outbreak in the press briefing room at the White House on March 23, 2020 in Washington, DC. Drew Angerer / Getty Images

By John R. Platt

Both eyes open. Look for potential threats coming from all sides. Be prepared to change course at a moment's notice.


That's quickly become a life strategy at the dawn of this pandemic — which still seems like an alternate reality — as we carefully, nervously navigate our neighborhood sidewalks, lonely roads and outdoor trails.

It needs to be our larger strategy, too.

As we self-isolate, seeing our passing neighbors and even ourselves as potential disease vectors in the community, new threats have continued to emerge around us.

While many of us have been panic-watching the news for updates on the worldwide COVID-19 crisis, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency — already defanged by the Trump administration — quietly stopped enforcing antipollution laws, a dereliction of duty that came at the behest of the American Petroleum Institute and other industry leaders.

This development occurred in the background, unnoticed by most of us, just as we learned that air pollution appears to increase COVID-19 death rates.

Meanwhile, also mostly hidden from public view, the Trump administration has moved forward on several oil, gas and mining lease auctions, approved construction of the Jordan Cove liquefied natural gas export terminal, hired a trophy-hunting advocate to run the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's international program, proposed allowing GMO crops in wildlife refuges, continued its move to reduce automotive fuel-efficiency standards, and weakened a host of other environmental regulations, including one on toxic coal ash.

Looking beyond the federal level, Kentucky, West Virginia and South Dakota all passed laws intended to criminalize protests against pipelines and other fossil-fuel infrastructure.

And then there are the disaster capitalists, who seek to take advantage of the chaos to make greater profits. The most obvious examples affecting consumers so far include price-gouging on N95 masks and toilet paper, but the bigger picture continues to emerge every day. To name but a few: the coal industry asking to be relieved of its responsibility to support miners with black-lung disease; the plastics industry looking to suspend bans on single-use bags; and corporations galore lining up for handouts through the federal coronavirus stimulus package.

There will be more. Probably, a lot more.

To protect ourselves — both from the virus and the corporate forces that want to use this pandemic as an opportunity to take control — we need take our modern survival strategy to the next level.

Both eyes open. Look for potential threats coming from all sides. Be prepared to change course at a moment's notice.

And when you see these novel injustices and threats emerge, shine a light on them and raise hell.

That means paying attention, safely engaging in every opportunity for participatory government, supporting nonprofit watchdogs and vital local and national journalism (which needs our help more than ever), and using social media and online tools to call out injustice and mobilize activism.

And keep an eye out for your neighbors, friends, family and colleagues. We need to step up to safely help people and systems in need every chance we get — and we shouldn't be afraid to ask for help if we need it.

It's easy to let fear overwhelm us and rule our lives. It's far, far harder to pay attention to the big picture while many of us are struggling, getting sick and even dying. But this pandemic isn't the only fight going on right now, and if we're not careful, we'll lose a lot more before it's over. Experts warn that fascists and other political strongmen have used pandemics to seize or consolidate power — something that's already happening in Hungary and several other nations. Many countries have already launched efforts to hobble freedom of the press — as has, apparently, the governor of the state of Florida.

Corporations and anti-government extremists are sure to take or advocate for similar actions.

If we're not careful through all of this, we'll undoubtedly lose many more lives, careers, protections, habitats and species.

But that can only happen if we fail to keep both eyes open, even in these troubling times.

John R. Platt is the editor of The Revelator.

Reposted with permission from The Revelator.

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