A Personal Reflection from Generation Z: Climate and COVID-19

May, 2020

Celia Conway, NCSE Applied Solutions Science Corps Fellow; Northeastern University

We are living in unprecedented times and I know that many share my feelings of anxiety and uncertainty. As someone invested in the future of our planet, these feelings are ones I have experienced before. To me, pandemic anxiety feels similar to climate anxiety. My anxiety is seeded with guilt because I recognize that I am in a privileged position and am less likely to be harmed by these global threats. Some days I am overwhelmed by doubt that humanity will be able to change our actions in time to limit the damaging effects of climate change and avoid the worst case scenario for COVID-19. I often calm myself by taking a few deep breaths and remembering the reasons to have hope that we can conquer these crises. 

The similarities I have noticed between the climate crisis and COVID-19 go beyond my emotional response. Both of these issues are widespread, no one is immune. But the impact of both are inequitably distributed. Those that are the most at risk because of the climate crisis tend to be the same group that is most at risk during this pandemic. The catastrophic nature of these issues can invoke feelings of individual hopelessness and apathy, feelings that I have battled with. These feelings are compounded when one sees the influence of special interests as they advance their narrow agenda and thwart needed equitable solutions. 

As the coronavirus continues to dominate every aspect of life, it is often hard to find solace in continual negative news, especially when it appears as if this crisis had been treated more seriously at the outset, some of this damage could have been avoided. Everyday I feel helpless and frustrated that more has not been done, feelings that intensify as it seems as if this crisis will never end. Eventually, these sentiments creep up and cause me to realize that it is time to close that tab. 

While it is hard not to despair, I have found some positive commonalities between the climate crisis and coronavirus. When I feel a large wave of climate anxiety, I remember the people and movements that give me hope. I have begun to do the same in order to stay balanced throughout this pandemic. I remember the tireless work of the government employees and officials at the state, county and local level. I remember the tireless work of healthcare workers and undervalued essential workers that keep this nation running. I remember the generosity I have seen coming from all corners of my community, from mutual aid funds to physical distancing sing alongs. I am immensely inspired by the many individuals working to make a difference. 

Another reason that I continue to have hope, something that even has the potential to abate my feelings of hopelessness, is the power of science. Compelling science communication and pathways to create science-informed policy have the potential to transform these crises. My time spent at the National Council for Science and the Environment (NCSE) has helped me to comprehend the importance and impact that science communication and science-informed policy can have.

In the current pandemic we have seen the significance of effective science communication. From Anthony Fauci communicating the risks and impacts of the coronavirus to journalists conveying science effectively. Science communication is also of the utmost importance when it comes to conveying science to policymakers. Norfolk, Virginia, and Montgomery County, Maryland, offer examples of decision-makers listening to and understanding the science and using it to create informed climate plans. Furthermore, countries where policymakers have listened to the science and acted accordingly, such as in New Zealand and South Korea, have fared better during this pandemic. 

At NCSE, science communication and science-informed policy are at the heart of our mission. I am so grateful for the chance to learn its importance. For the past couple months I have served as the NCSE Applied Solutions Science Corps Fellow, a position I obtained through Northeastern University’s co-op program. NCSE works to make environmental policy and decision-making more informed. Working at NCSE has reinforced my understanding of  the importance of partnerships between scientists and decision-makers at all levels of government, something we need now more than ever. At NCSE, we have continued to walk the line between science and policy and to help foster these collaborations that we know are critical to our future. I have had the pleasure of working alongside boundary-spanners to begin to develop a program to connect local government decision-makers to scientists at universities and research centers in order to inform policies related to environmental sustainability and climate resilience. We hope for the future that science communication and science-informed policy will become the norm and infrastructures will become more established to make this happen.  

As I have witnessed my friends become uprooted from their lives at college and forced to move back home and as I read the news and hear stories about essential workers—from healthcare workers to grocery clerks, among other professions—I am tremendously grateful for the position I am in. I have the pleasure of continuing to work (from home) at NCSE with an inspiring, adapting team that is ready and willing to share our work to implement solutions and navigate this unprecedented trail. However, as I continue to hear about the experiences of others and watch my high school-aged sister navigate online learning, I hope that we commit to reviewing the data and the science related to issues that have come to the forefront, such as digital equity, environmental justice, the efficacy of online learning, economic justice, mental health during times of great stress, and more, in order to create effective science-informed policies.

My time at NCSE, my first professional work experience, has been unprecedented and unique, that is for sure. But I have met some amazing people and learned some great things. I continue to have hope and remember those that inspire me as we face one of the greatest challenges. I have faith that we will come out of this on top with lessons learned to pave the way to a more just and robust system, filled with effective science communication and science-informed policy, that will be ready for future shocks. I wish you well.

Woman in canoe in a lake in front of mountains