2020 – Our Agonizing Year of Crisis


2020 is an agonizing year. It has been traumatic. We’ve endured crisis after crisis. Mainstream and social media are going crazy, and we can’t seem to get good information. We’re locked in, shut-down, and worried. 

2020 Thunderstorm Season

Once I was checking into hotel and a couple saw my ring with Blues on it. They said, 'You play blues. That music is so sad.' I gave them tickets to the show, and they came up afterwards and said, 'You didn't play one sad song.'

I hate to add to your stress, but now we are also enduring a period of terrible weather. It’s thunderstorm season here in Alberta and we are seeing some major climate events; severe rain, hail and flooding in Calgary, and severe wind and rain across the Province generally. At this time of year, I always relive Black Friday and the 1987 Edmonton tornado. 

That left lasting emotional scars. It’s been 33 years and I, like many Edmontonians of my era, still eye thunderclouds with great misgiving.2020, COVID-19, Race and Climate

Even so, I have been preoccupied with COVID-19 and the crisis of race across the States and Canada. These issues are deeply personal and scary. But here’s the thing, climate change carries on and threatens all of us, though it seems to affect poorer communities worse. In many ways, climate risk and our other crises magnify each other. So, climate change is also deeply personal and scary.

2020 – Death and Morbidity 

2020 has been deadly. But if I have learned nothing else this year, I have learned that statistics on fatalities drastically underestimate the overall trauma of a crisis. 

2020 also taught me a new word, or should I say, a word I have heard often, but seldom use: morbidity. In medical circles, morbidity refers to the long-lasting effects of disease. This takes us beyond a discussion about how many people die, and into a dialogue about long-term suffering and medical care. This is a concept we need to bring into our work on climate change. 

Beyond Death and Dollars 

In social and mainstream media we discuss risk in terms of costs and fatalities. Sometimes, we may consider injuries, but mostly in immediate terms and not from the perspective of long-term suffering.  

But in all the crises we are living through in 2020, the effects go well beyond death and dollars. In every case, we need to get behind the headlines and think about morbidity.  

Long-Term Impacts of COVID-19

For example, this week I saw a news item about a young, previously healthy woman who received a double lung transplant because of the damage to her lungs from COVID-19. Even this story was presented as wonderful news. She lived. However, a double lung transplant is major surgery. It’s a procedure she would never have needed, had it not been for COVID-19. And it will have lasting effects on the quality of her life. The news seldom captures this long-term pain. So, when folks talk about COVID-19 not being serious because only a small percentage die, I cringe.  

Long-Term Impact of Riots 

Or think about the trauma inflicted by rubber bullets, tear gas, and billy clubs. The news focuses on the immediate injury, but never contemplates the long-term health effects, PTSD, and other costs of continued care. We see momentary flashes – images of injured folks and are led to believe that afterwards, everything is fine. 

Long-Term Impact of Climate 

On the climate front, stories about floods often focus on the damage and immediate clean-up. They seldom reflect on the long-term effects on the lives of folks caught up in these disasters. We rarely hear about their stress, the impact of mould, or the major increases in insurance costs, if they can get it at all. These folks have real problems getting back to normal, and many never do. 

The Real Impact of 2020 

These are real effects the news ignores. So, it’s up to us to look beyond the statistics and costs. All the crises we face in 2020 are real, and they’re all spectacular and newsworthy. But they also all have long-term impacts. Sure, only a few folks may die, that’s statistics, but a lot more will suffer, that’s reality. They may have to live with that suffering for a very long time to come. 

Think About the Long-Term 

So, I urge in every crisis, think beyond the present and contemplate those long-term impacts. That is where most of the damage happens. With this focus, we can do crisis management in a way that makes a lasting, positive difference.

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