A 1959 reminder to wash your hands. Alberta Department of Health

A 1959 reminder to wash your hands. Alberta Department of Health

The silver lining, one year later

Looking back and forward after a year of pandemic

About a year ago, I wrote a column about the scary times that were to come and the once-in-a-lifetime chance we had to rethink the way our world works.

In a lot of ways, the world of March 2020 was a very different world than the one we’re in now. So many of the last year’s defining moments had not happened yet. Donald Trump was still in the White House and had only been impeached once. Oil prices had yet to go into the negative, the skies had not turned blood red with wildfire smoke (in this hemisphere at least), Mi’kmaq fishers had not been under attack, the dispute around fish farms in the Discovery Islands had no resolution, we had not been bitterly divided along ideological lines and a group of insurgents had not stormed the US Capitol building in an attempt to overthrow a democracy.

It has been quite a year.

Last year, I said COVID-19 felt like wartime. In retrospect, I’m not so sure that was a great metaphor. Now I think the pandemic acted more like a spotlight, showing every aspect of our lives in sharp relief and detail. While much of that is the parts of us that we’d like to keep hidden, it has also showed a lot of humanity’s potential to make the world a better place.

The issues that came up over the past year are not new. They did not just appear out of nowhere. The way inequality has persisted for hundreds of years, the racism that is systemic in the way our society is built, and decades of inaction on the climate crisis have all led to the world we’re in today. They also will not just go away when (or if) ever the pandemic is over. Getting out of this in a way that benefits us all is be a big task, but I think we can do it.

One thing I’ll repeat from my 2020 missive is this: we have the chance to rebuild our world the way we want it. The travesties that occurred over the last year are all lessons for us. We need to diversify our economy to not be reliant on one or two commodities, we need to stop allowing ourselves to be divided by partisan values, we need to actively stamp out racism and never be complacent to it, we need to make slowing the climate crisis our first priority, and we need to treat everybody with the respect they automatically deserve for just being a human being.

I will add that we can’t do this with half-measures. We need to go all-in on creating a new world with large scale planning, collective action and building in resilience so that when systems fail we are not left in the lurch again. We’ve already started, but we need to do much more.

We can’t continue to do things as we always have, because like it or not, things are going to change. Whether it is by unnatural weather disasters that damage our homes, or partisan divides that act as a wedge in our communities, or growing class inequality that was exacerbated by the pandemic, these things are not going to go away unless we do something about it. We can make that change a good one, or let it be a bad one.

It’s up to us.

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