Connected \\ April 16, 2021
What the pandemic can teach us about tackling climate change
On a blustery and sunny day in March, I took a walk on Derby Wharf with Jane Winchell, PEM’s Director of the Dotty Brown Art & Nature Center, and Curator of Natural History. As Canada geese followed our progress on the wharf and a full moon tugged at the high tide, we discussed PEM’s new Climate + Environment Initiative. Below is an excerpt from our conversation.
Photo by Dinah Cardin
Q: Why is making change around climate and environment part of PEM’s mission?
Alexis Rockman, Maelstrom, 2019. Oil on wood. Courtesy of the artist and Sperone Westwater Gallery.
A: Well, we have certainly created some problems for ourselves. And the ocean has been this incredible mechanism for moving people around. But also we've managed to transport different animal species, which has been disruptive, and also diseases. And I think that his paintings really capture that -- they're big, they're vibrant.
Q: One of them includes the bat that might have started COVID-19. Is it the bat’s fault?
Need the caption for this painting here.
A: That's where this is so interesting, because the bat is not to blame for COVID. It happens that we are susceptible to certain viruses that bats also carry, like COVID-19. The problem is we're out there eroding the zone between wild spaces and human spaces. Whether it's a bat or some other species, we are coexisting on a planet with them. And viruses are everywhere. So yes, these are complicated stories. And I think it's our tendency as humans to want to simplify things down to an easy answer. If someone were to say, "well, let's just get rid of those bats," that would generate other consequences that are not desirable either.
Photo by Paige Besse/PEM.
Q: What lessons can we learn from the pandemic?
A: There are aspects of COVID that have offered insight into what we could be implementing to address climate change. This crisis is like our COVID situation on steroids. And so it's a really fascinating dialogue to hear from experts. Like, what can we learn from this? And how do we utilize this to go forward together because we are all in this together.
Q: So what do you think people are going to say, in the future, looking back at how we've stewarded the planet now?
A: That's concerning. It really is. I would like to think that we can leverage this moment to reverse the damage that we've done. And look forward in a way that is truly recognizing that we cannot be separated from other species or from what is happening on other parts of the planet. So, in a way, thinking differently about what it means to be human.
Photo by Paige Besse
Q: This is part of our mission, just as diversity and inclusion is part of our mission. Right?
A: You can't have environmental justice without social justice. So that will be inherent to how we are approaching climate and environment, both as topics and as opportunities for building awareness.
A BLM gathering on Salem Common. Photo by Paige Besse
Q: Who suffers the most from climatic catastrophe on the planet?
A: Well, obviously, you have populations that are right on the coast, but especially in many instances, it's Indigenous communities that have lived on the coast that have relied on the coast or on islands that are literally being submerged. So these people for whom that is their life, it's not like they moved there because they liked the scenery. This is integral to their heritage. And then there's communities of color and other marginalized communities that are ending up in places where they may not have the resources to up and move or to put their homes on stilts. They are much more vulnerable to climate change.