Columns From Quarantine: The pandemic isn’t an outlying disaster – it’s a warning of an inevitable future

Amid concerns about how the world will recover and move on from the COVID-19 pandemic, Opinion columnist Payton Kammerer details her concerns about the environmental future of the planet. (Courtesy of Payton Kammerer)

By Payton Kammerer

May 19, 2020 at 6:33 p.m.

The coronavirus pandemic has drastically upended life in the most unforeseeable ways. At UCLA, our community is remarkably united by similar feelings of loss, confusion and concern, but also by light, hope and the perspective that the pandemic has brought to the forefront. In “Columns From Quarantine,” Daily Bruin staffers and community submissions highlight the personal stories that mark this unprecedented moment. If you have a quarantine story to tell, you can submit it here or email [email protected].

(Andrea Grigsby/Illustrations Director)
(Andrea Grigsby/Illustrations Director)

Despite physical separation from UCLA’s campus and the community I’ve come to know there, my generation’s propensity for sharing their innermost thoughts and feelings on social media has allowed me to keep tabs on how our demographic has been handling this pandemic.

While the main topics of debate have shifted, our general sentiment is one of anxiousness, caused by the stark revelation that our world is not as stable as so many of us had previously taken for granted. We are painfully aware that we don’t know what the future holds, but we are certain that it won’t be what we had hoped for.

When not trying to discredit the expertise of highly educated scientists with complex understandings of the issue at hand, political figures on all levels are prioritizing economic growth over public welfare. Seeing those in power handle this crisis in that manner has exacerbated that horrible feeling that has come to saturate my social media feeds.

But for me, this ubiquitous, crushing combination of fear and frustration isn’t new.

I have been interested in and passionate about nature and its protection for as long as I can remember. That interest was perhaps the result of my status as a Jewish midwesterner, with strong cultural norms of responsibility for the earth’s well-being uniting with my frequent exposure to natural spaces. Or maybe it was just an innate passion that would have manifested regardless of my heritage or home.

Origins aside, that environmentalism has led me to academic exploration of the subject. Not only do I spend my free time reading and watching videos about the global catastrophe that is modern humanity, but I’ve also dedicated my studies here at UCLA to it.

(Courtesy of Payton Kammerer)
Kammerer (pictured) doing field research on Cape rockjumpers, a threatened species of bird in inland South Africa, in spring 2019. (Courtesy of Payton Kammerer)

And this is what I have learned from pursuing this course of study: my generation will know hardship and catastrophe far more terrible than this pandemic.

I also know that it was preventable.

Experts have been ringing the alarm bells for decades, warning everyone that changing the chemistry of the atmosphere and indiscriminately annihilating ecosystems would have grave ramifications.

But those alarms have fallen upon deaf ears, clogged by the temptations of unbridled economic growth – sound familiar?

While this virus is a short-term issue, the environmental catastrophe we are responsible for is going to unfold in the long term. For a long time, I believed that meant it was going to happen slowly. We are knocking over each domino one at a time, and we just need to stop before too many have fallen.

Through my studies at UCLA, I’ve come to understand that the dominoes are knocking one another over. Even if we stop pumping carbon into the atmosphere and destroying natural habitats this very second, we have already started that positive feedback loop. The ultimate consequences still lie in wait.

The people making decisions about our collective sacrifice in the middle of the coronavirus are frequently those who, demographically, are at a high risk of suffering severely from it.

In environmental policy, that is not the case.

The consequences of the irresponsibility of our predecessors will not be theirs to bear – they will be ours, our children’s and every other generation’s burden for the rest of human existence.

(Courtesy of Payton Kammerer)
A photo taken by Kammerer at dawn in Chaco, Paraguay, in summer 2019. Kammerer was studying the ecology of Howler monkeys in a fragmented forest habitat. (Courtesy of Payton Kammerer)

Experiencing certainty in that knowledge, and truly internalizing how phenomenally temporary my world is, has been a draining and often overwhelming emotional burden. And unlike that of this pandemic, it is far from universal.

And so, the events that have characterized this school year take on a much different tone for me. Whenever I find myself upset over them, there is a grim voice in the back of my mind telling me that one day, I will be willing to give anything to come back to this time.

Because it is going to get so much worse.

Payton Kammerer is a second-year ecology, behavior and evolution student from Machesney Park, Illinois, and is an Opinion columnist for the Daily Bruin.

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