How do young people on the South American continent experience the COVID-19 pandemic and the consequences of climate change? In this part of our interview series we get to know the living worlds of Elenita Sales from Brazil and Ati Gunnawi Viviam Villafaña Izquierdo from Colombia.
They tell how their countries both suffered from the consequences of the climate crisis even before the Corona pandemic, how they both learned about the pandemic on a sailing ship and what we can learn from the pandemic to combat the climate crisis.
Situation before Corona
Climate Delegation e.V.: What was the climate change situation in your country before the Corona pandemic?
Elenita: Brazil is the largest country in Latin America, both in terms of area and population. The effects of climate change, such as droughts, floods, storms and crop failures are alarming. The IPCC warns of an increase in heavy rainfall, landslides and long periods of drought, especially in the south-eastern region of the country, due to disorderly population growth.
The main consequences of the climate crisis in my daily life are the floods which have on several occasions prevented me from going to school and to work. Storms have also caused me to arrive late because I got stuck in traffic, and they have caused structural damage in some of the houses I have lived in.
Ati: Colombia is one of the countries with the most serious inequality in South America. Thus, climate change has had a particularly strong impact on the poorest part of the population, for example through the water crisis: although in my region, in Santa Marta, there were timely warnings of a public disaster for the months of February, mega-projects that further aggravated the water crisis have been pushed forward.
Situation during Corona
Climate Delegation e.V.: How has Corona affected you and your families?
Elenita: I was on a ship to Europe with other climate activists when the pandemic started. My first thought was to find out how my father is doing, who is an old man and lives alone in my home town. My family lives in the capital of the state of São Paulo, which for a long time was the epicentre of the pandemic, so they could not work. The children also began to take lessons from a distance, but it was not easy to adapt to the routine of the new normal.
Personally, my biggest challenge at the moment is to find a job. I finance myself and it is difficult to concentrate on something else when I also have to take care of rent and food, but that is the reality for many Brazilians. At the moment there are more people without work than working in the country. We are fighting for basic survival needs.
Ati: I was also on this ship with Elenita heading for Europe. Concern about the increase of corona infections caused our countries to close their borders and the European Union ordered the closure of its member countries. That moment was chaotic and had a huge impact on the way we imagine the world because it showed that the institutions and their rules are immovable and that the functioning of the capitalist system, so deeply rooted in our culture, would never stop.
But out of all this chaos of uncertainties and disinformation that we left behind, there was also something positive: nature has regained some of its balance. Many animals lived as they did before mankind. Even if they were apocalyptic scenarios for us, it was ideal for the recovery of many species.
Lessons from Corona — Messages for the future
Climate Delegation e.V.: What lessons should we learn from the Corona crisis for combating the climate crisis (collectively and individually)?
Elenita: I think the most important lesson is that together we can make a difference and make a more effective transformation of our society. I already had this awareness, mainly through the black movement, but it was reinforced during the pandemic. Seeing different people fighting for social justice has given me hope to move forward.
People have taken a stronger stand and are demanding more concrete action from our leaders. We are not even halfway to making real change, but big steps are being taken. It is sad to need something so serious to help people understand the importance of fighting for social and environmental justice. Together we are stronger, and it is our duty as a society to honour those who have died so young, whether by pandemic, natural disaster or gunfire. We must be the transformation we want to see in the world!
Ati: The climate crisis is a consequence of our actions. This is an ideal scenario for us to react with immediate responses, as happened in the middle of the pandemic and in an articulated way. We consider the consequences of our unsustainable lifestyle in the long term as possible scenarios. In the face of this scenario, indigenous communities argue that the worst-case scenario is not a distant future, but that we are experiencing the consequences of this scenario right now. The message is clear: we need to rethink the kind of relationship we have with our fellow human beings, what does not actually come from outside and what we use.
The future is full of uncertainty in which we must take responsibility, and pessimism is the worst of all diseases, because it leads us to inaction and to silence, where the worst of all scenarios is to be expected ”
As a climate delegation, we see that there is still a window of opportunity to limit the interaction between the climate and Covid-19 pandemic through global solidarity. If you would like to learn more about the interaction of the crises in general, please feel free to visit our blog post.
Editor’s note: the interview responses are an edited translation from Portuguese or Spanish.