Let’s not minimize this opportunity.
With everything that has happened to us in recent months, we can see that solving the health problems we face requires rethinking ours fundamental: that universal health coverage is a human right.
The 17 sustainable goals set by the United Nations include ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being for all at all ages, as the number three goal that the United States and 192 other nations are committed to meeting by 2030. But we are not doing well. The health of the natural world is in danger and that affects us. Abuse of animals for consumption, greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change, and deforestation affect us.
Here in the Hudson Valley, when we talk about what it will be like to return to normal after quarantine, I hear a long list of wishes that includes the environment.
Recently, the New York State Attorney General Letitia James made it very clear through Radio Kingston, during the show, “La Voz con Mariel Fiori”, “Our new normal is to protect ourselves…and no less importantly, we have to focus on our environment. This is an opportunity to change our society as we know it, again, to be more creative and innovative in our technology, to focus on climate change, and to focus on improving our health system, and finally to examine the gaps that the coronavirus has revealed to us that the safety net created for low-income people, immigrants, and undocumented individuals is inadequate, unfortunately,” she said. “This pandemic has revealed so much inequity in our society and as a society we must give it attention because, even though America is perfect and exceptional, it has shown some gaps that must be corrected.”
Certainly, this health crisis presents us with the opportunity to see that the most intensified risk of virus infection is borne by the most vulnerable communities because it is also they who supply the state with essential workers. Without these workers, many of the production chains that maintain the economy and social welfare would not work. The food chain would not function without migrant workers, and many of them are undocumented.
Taking care of ourselves, as prosecutor James says, is still in jeopardy. With more than 50,000 coronavirus deaths in the country, we are being urged to get out of confinement. It is as the Mexican economist, Martha Tepepa, from the Levy de Bard Institute, said last month on the same radio show: “That denial of the quarantine is simply the refusal of large employers to have their workers stay at home. It seems to me that it is like saying that these are collateral damages. It is implicit that if people do not stay at home, they will die…but you know who are the ones who are not going to die? Those great entrepreneurs. Because they put up the capital and stay at home. The workers are the ones who put forth the work.”
Before the pandemic, poverty in the world had reached its lowest point, according to the UN, but we were not yet on track to eliminate poverty by 2030 and 400 million people worldwide did not have basic healthcare. That figure may well have increased with the pandemic. Without a safety net for the most vulnerable communities, how can we expect economic progress without environmental protection and think that less than 7 million people will not die from pollution? How can we expect this pandemic to subside without taking a terrifying number of lives? It is like sitting on a chair that is broken and not expecting that we will not fall.
If we take it that way, nations may come together and take collective action to calm it down. At the local level, Kingston and other communities are taking collective action. Let’s keep doing that.
Recently, the spiritual guide of the Tibetan Buddhist monastery in Woodstock, Karma Triyana Dharmachakra, said it like this:
“If we had a deep understanding of interdependence, maybe the coronavirus would not spread so widely in the world. But we naturally have very solid ego-clinging. We think that each family, or each community, or each country are different and separate, and we are only concerned about the things which affect us and don’t take other things seriously. Yet every breath we take connects us with everyone.”
Angélica Medaglia, translator of classic texts of Tibetan Buddhism into Spanish and English and freelance writer, is born in Colombia and lives in Woodstock.