At the time of this writing (June 22, 2020), the global novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has killed over 450,000 people, including over 110,000 in the United States. The resulting economic disruption has caused unemployment to spike to levels not seen since the great depression. Most recently, the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer triggered widespread protests and increasing calls for a renewed national dialogue on racism.
In such circumstances, home energy consumption is, understandably, the last thing from a lot of people’s minds.
Deferring Difficult Choices
These crises bring to mind Langston Hughes’ famous poem, Harlem, in which he asks “what happens to a dream deferred?”
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore –
and then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over –
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?Harlem, by Langston Hughes
As these crises exploded they were all the more tragic for how, at least in hindsight, foreseeable they seem. Police killings of civilians have been an all too regular occurrence for years. Indeed there were only 27 days in 2019 in which American police did not kill anyone. Similarly, our ability to contain COVID-19 was handicapped by massive cuts to the CDC’s epidemic disease prevention program. Public health officials warned in an open letter that the cuts would impact “infrastructure [that] is critical to protecting against devastating, destabilizing, and debilitating disease threats.”
It is heartening to see such widespread calls for change, including from historically often conservative voices in the corporate sector. At the same time, similar stories have played out many times: Watts in 1965, Miami in 1980, LA in 1992, Ferguson in 2014. We should not assume that people at the time just shrugged at these events and did nothing. People expressed outrage and demanded change every time. And yet we find ourselves facing many of the same problems in 2020.
What’s Different This Time?
Why do some crises fail to produce meaningful change, even when the vast majority of people agree that change is needed? One reason is that we often settle for short-term fixes rather than continuing to push for systemic improvements that will prevent the problem from recurring. Too often we treat the “explosion” as the problem, rather than a symptom of an underlying problem. If Floyd’s killers are convicted and imprisoned, that will be an important victory. But it won’t, in itself, produce lasting improvements. Similarly, a cure or vaccine for COVID-19 won’t prevent the emergence of other (perhaps even deadlier) diseases.
The title of this post asks who cares about energy conservation right now. The answer, we hope, is everyone. By the same token, we ought all continue to care about and take action to support racial equality and health, even when those things are no longer “trending” in the news. Long term challenges require long term commitments and few truly important problems lend themselves to quick and easy fixes.
Long-term fixes to big societal problems require work from each of us. Our focus at Watt Does It Use is on consumer energy consumption, not public health or race. We realize personal energy efficiency might seem mundane with everything else that’s going on in the world. Our site is built on the belief that solutions to big societal problems can start with small actions by individuals. That principle applies equally to all manner of large societal problems. While our focus will remain on energy-saving strategies we, as individuals, are also reflecting on things we can do to promote healthy and just communities.
What Can You Do?
We encourage you to consider things you do in your corner of the world to help build a society that is safe and just for all people, but also a sustainable one that meets climate change head-on before it also reaches an explosive tipping point. If you’re not sure where to start, Racial Equality Tools and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s Racial Equity Resource Guide are both excellent resources for people thinking about how to eliminate racial inequality. On the public policy side, Campaign Zero has developed a comprehensive program of policies with the goal of ending police violence. Even if you disagree with some of their specific recommendations we think they’re a good starting point for a discussion that we, as a society, should have. Finally, if you have the resources to contribute financially, MentalFloss put together a list of charities working to promote racial justice.