It is with sadness and firm conviction that New Pioneers for a Sustainable Future responds to the undeniable crises we face in Kentucky, the United States, and around the world. The mission of New Pioneers is to promote sustainability for all people in our rural communities and beyond. For 15 years, we have taken stands based on facts, allowing those facts to inform our beliefs. We now face indisputable facts about three interconnected catastrophes that simultaneously threaten our very existence: The pandemic, climate change, and racial injustice.
Pandemic facts: We are still in the midst of a global pandemic, meaning that safe and healthy behaviors remain essential to ensuring public health. At the time of this writing, COVID-19 has resulted in over:
- 6 million cases worldwide, causing over 380,000 deaths
- 1.89 million cases in the United States, killing over 108,000 Americans
- 10,000 cases in Kentucky, resulting in 454 deaths
We grieve for those whose lives have been lost or upended, and for those still to come. It is a fact that social distancing and consistent guidance at the state level have saved many lives and will continue to do so.
This spring, New Pioneers presented a six-week series that addressed aspects of the pandemic – ranging from biology and ecology, to economics and spirituality. We discovered how this pandemic uncovered and amplified the fragility of our complex connections with each other and our planet. Wealthy people’s health depends on poor people’s health. Those with adequate means to stay at home depend on frontline workers, often low paid, working daily to raise our food, package food in processing plants, transport and stock goods, treat patients in hospitals, care for our parents and grandparents in nursing homes, keep our cars running, dispose of our garbage, and much more. When it comes to the virus, we are all interdependent, at the local, regional and global levels. We have discovered at a whole new level the fact that we are all in this together.
Climate change facts: Climate change, due largely to human consumption and overpopulation, is a well-established science. As a society, we have rolled back even modest legislations intended to curb it. Now, we have to plan on how to best survive the cataclysmic changes approaching and perhaps prevent the absolute worst impacts.
Climate change is directly responsible for increasing drought, fires, floods and extreme weather events, the spread of harmful pests, and disease proliferation. While climate change did not cause the coronavirus, it is a “threat multiplier” as climate scientist Kathryn Hayhoe suggests. Climate change contributes to environmental degradation and loss of habitat for wildlife, resulting in their succumbing to more viruses and bacteria that mutate and cross over to humans. People whose health has been damaged by air pollution, drought, fire, and catastrophic weather events, are more susceptible to contracting, transmitting, and dying from diseases such as Covid19. There is no going back; we – and all of our fellow species – are in this together.
Racial injustice facts: For hundreds of years, innocent people of color have been murdered by citizen posses or by law enforcement officers on American soil. While this terrible truth is documented in many places, it is with renewed horror that we now have visual evidence of these killings. The most recent murder in our state is of Breonna Taylor, who was shot in her Louisville home by police with a “no-knock” warrant. In Minnesota, George Floyd was murdered by a police officer who strangled him with a knee pressed to his neck, while Mr. Floyd was handcuffed and held down by other officers. It is unclear if Mr. Floyd committed a crime, but it was certainly not one that justified what his brother called a “lynching in broad daylight”. And between those horrendous events, another graphic video showed Ahmaud Arbery being gunned down by two white men while jogging, who wrongly assumed he was a thief.
We cannot deny that racism exists within the heart of America, and that it threatens our sustainability as much as the coronavirus or climate change. The pandemic has placed a magnifying glass on systematic racism and inequality. CDC data demonstrate that people who are Black/African American, Hispanic/Latinx, or Native American, have died of COVID19 at percentages substantially higher than their numbers in the population. Why? It is a fact that health disparities have existed for many generations due to social and economic inequalities which result(ed) in unequal access to health care, and an increase in medical problems for those disproportionately affected.
The pandemic, climate change, and generations of inequality and racism, are all predictable threats to the disruption of our fragile, interconnected ecosystems. Wicked problems do not have easy solutions; in fact, each is wicked because a solution to one aspect of the problem often causes problems elsewhere. Our reopening of society in order to mitigate economic disaster runs the risk of causing more deaths. Our demand for cheap food increases our carbon emissions and worsens climate change. Our drive for law and order runs the risk of killing or harming more innocent people, especially people of color due to systemic racism. These wicked problems must first be recognized as truths before we can begin the long, slow process of changing them.
At the heart of New Pioneers is the belief that we are a resilient people with the capacity to learn and respond when confronted with the facts. Resiliency stems from a desire to survive, but it is more than that. Throughout human existence we have woven love and caring into our spiritual beliefs, our education, our family and community rituals, our work and play. Our resiliency has as much to do with love and caring as it does with our desire to survive.
Each of us is challenged by the facts, and by the healthy fear of what will happen if we do not change course, to discover how we actively participate to address these three interlocking catastrophes. Some actions are simple; some are highly complex. The common principles, though, are straightforward: Change must begin in ourselves, and change will not be effective unless we work together. Look within. Plug in where you feel you are needed. Local non-profits are passionate about your participation and can provide guidance. VOTE! Call the county clerk’s office to obtain an application for an absentee ballot. Let us begin, Central Kentucky. We are strong in our beliefs and in our actions, and together we can make a difference.
New Pioneers for a Sustainable Future, Board of Directors
Dr. Anne Harrison, President
Whitney Wurzel, Executive Director
Sr. Claire McGowan, Executive Director Emerita