“Perfect Storm: Climate, Race and COVID” Transcript
Guest: Adrienne Hollis
(Listen to the audio on the episode page.)
Betty Teng: Welcome to Mind of State, a podcast for both political junkies and armchair shrinks. I’m psychoanalyst and trauma therapist Betty Teng.
Jonathan Kopp: And I’m political communications strategist Jonathan Kopp. Join us as we welcome experts in politics and psychology to consider this, the state of our nation through the state of our minds and the mind of our state. Hi Betty.
Betty: Hi Jonathan.
Jonathan: You know, when we were getting this season started and we were thinking about all the topics that we wanted to talk about I remember climate change really popped to the top for us. I mean, from a political standpoint, I go way beyond the Green New Deal. I’m thinking about all of the policy and legislative and legal measures that we can use to try to shape human behavior so that we can somehow pull back on the destruction that we’re doing to our planet and to the human race.
Betty: Yeah absolutely and psychologically speaking, I think it’s really interesting how these macro issues are really coming into these individual conversations I’m having with people with regard to, in the middle of, the pandemic. These pictures of the Bay Area looking like midnight at midday, hurricanes hitting Louisiana, and just the feeling that the end is near, like that we’ve got, you know, these multiple monumental crises coming at us. And it really can feel like it’s armageddon and how do we contend with that psychologically is monumental. It’s monumental.
Jonathan: So there we are. We’re looking at climate, we think we’ve got a topic, and then we hit something richer, something deeper.
Betty: Mm hmm. Something connected, connecting it all.
Jonathan: Right. And the term for this is environmental racism. That’s where we landed and what we’re talking about here is the connection between climate change and the impacts it has on communities that are already being disproportionately affected by economic injustice and racial injustice.
Betty: Environmentally compromised locally.
Jonathan: And environmental compromise for sure. And particularly when you think about how climate has come together with the pandemic, with the George Floyd protests and the response of the Black Lives Matter movement, it feels like environmental racism is exactly right for this moment for Mind of State.
Betty: And to talk to us about it is Dr. Adrienne Hollis and we’re really excited to have her on the show. She is the senior climate justice and health scientist for the Climate and Energy Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. She’s also taught at the George Washington University Milken School of Public Health and the American University Washington College of Law. So she’s a bit of a triple threat, scientist, lawyer, and public health advocate. Thank you so much for joining us, Adrienne.
Adrienne Hollis: Thank you for having me. I’m excited to be here.
Jonathan: Tell us a little bit about your background and what drew you to the topic of climate to begin with?
Adrienne: Okay well, my background is in environmental health. I have a Ph.D. in biochemistry, in nutritional biochemistry, and I started working as a toxicologist looking at chemicals and how they affected the body. And then from that, I just started working with communities and looking at how certain populations were affected more than others, disproportionately so. And so my work is, for the past 20 plus years, has been on environmental justice. And climate change is a big part of that because it all stems from what environmental justice is about, which is racism, systemic racism. And so with climate change, you see a lot of issues around people who were placed in situations because of their race. And those are the areas that are most affected by climate change first and worse.
Betty: And so, Adrienne, it sounds like you kind of found these things as you were doing toxicology and then you looked at the communities and were drawn in to respond. And so, to a degree, you followed your nose into this?
Adrienne: Well, Betty, actually, when I was, this is weird, but when I was young, I remember that’s sort of like when it started so I came full circle. I remember going to a beach, there were certain beaches we could go to or we were welcome at as black people, and I remember–
Jonathan: And where was that?
Adrienne: In Mobile, Alabama.
Jonathan: Mobile, Alabama.
Adrienne: Alabama, red state. And so my mom had bought me a two piece because, you know, when you’re a certain age, it’s not a bikini, it’s a two piece and it was white. And I remember getting in the water for no more than five minutes and we came out, it was black and it was never white again. And then I just noticed some other things. And those things kind of stuck with me, like the fact that a lot of people I knew had asthma when I was a kid, including my brother. And we weren’t, we didn’t have enough money to, like, get medication all the time. So my mom used to hold him over the bathtub and run the hot water to open up his airways. And a lot of people did that back then because that’s all you had. And so, yeah, my interest, I veered away from it for a while and then came back to it. So it’s always been, I guess, a part of me. I just didn’t know what that would look like in the future. So first I had, yes, so I had to go and get my thing and then come back and apply it. So–
Jonathan: It’s so interesting that you’ve been acutely aware of these issues, focused on these issues for four decades now and–
Adrienne: Well, let’s not say decades.
Jonathan: Well, since I’m going back to when you were a little kid.
Adrienne: Okay well, it wasn’t that long ago.
Jonathan: But through that time that you’ve been acutely aware of this, it seems like some sectors of the American public have been very slow to even come to the acknowledgment of climate, let alone the rest of it, to climate as a legitimate scientific issue that we need to deal with.
Adrienne: Yeah, I think that was just denial, just like denial about the whole racism issue. You know, I think because of where I lived in the South, it may not have been as much denial, um, you know, as it was in other places. But once things started to change like we used to at Christmas, we could wear shorts. And then, as you know, time passed, coats and boots, you know, and it snows sometimes occasionally like that. And those are, people would question that. So they had, so there was some idea people just didn’t know enough about it to call it what it is, you know. So and then as far as the others, people just weren’t ready to call it climate change. They figured it would go back to, you know, this is just this year. We’re having a cold year, you know.
Jonathan: But it seems like even when the eyes started to open in the American public, the conversation that brought it to light maybe was about climate refugees and the place that our minds went first was the equator and island populations. And it was much later, I think, that the general public in the United States started to think about the impacts of climate change, direct impacts of climate change, here in the U.S.
Adrienne: Well, I’m going to have to disagree with you. I’m not going to disagree with you. I’m going to say that what you’re saying is true, but I think for people who are already dealing with environmental contamination, that climate change just exacerbated that. So it was always there. People didn’t say climate change. It was like the weather is making this worse or we’re getting this. So I don’t think that there was a time when those who are most affected really dismissed it or ignored it, you know, but I do understand and agree with what you’re saying for the general population who don’t have that, you know, other exposure that, yeah, they wouldn’t, you know, really pay attention to it like that or call it what it was.
Betty: And Adrienne, when you were talking about the denial, the denial of structural racism and the denial of climate change, and now we’re sitting in a pandemic and there still is has been a denial of science or a resistance to science. And there’s these intersections going on. And you talk about in your writings and you bring forth the term syndemic. And this is, we got really excited with this term because it brings together a lot of things and we’re all about intersections and what happens when things come together with meaning. And so talk to us about how we’re actually in a syndemic.
Adrienne: Yeah, Betty, I was just about to bring that up because–
Betty: Okay good. We read each other’s mind.
Jonathan: It’s our word of the day.
Adrienne: That is my word of the year. I take every opportunity I can to say syndemic. It’s a thing.
Betty: It’s good.
Adrienne: Because it applies to so many things, you know, climate change and mental health and, you know, physical health. And you could do it that way, right, to look at climate change and its effects. But the syndemic that I always refer to is the intersection of racism, which underlies everything, so structural racism, climate change, and, in this instance, COVID-19. Right, you know, because syndemic is two or more and one of my friends and I, we’re really trying to get to five. I don’t know why. We got to find five things, five things.
Jonathan: God, I hope not.
Adrienne: I know right. I was like, wait a minute, why are we trying to get more? But–
Betty: There are five, aren’t there?
Adrienne: Well, I think one thing we came up with four, which for some reason I’m missing one, so systemic racism, climate change, environmental contamination, right, environmental exposure that’s disproportionately affecting people of color, and COVID-19.
Betty: Economic crisis.
Adrienne: There’s another. There you are. We could go on. I’ve got to call her.
Betty: We found the five.
Adrienne: But, you know, all those things, people don’t think of them, but everything is interrelated. I tell my students at GW, I say, you know, you guys, everything’s really interrelated. You give me one thing and I can run down a connection between everything. And they started doing it. I said, you just have to start asking questions and think about it, you know, people think asthma. No, start thinking about asthma from here and here and what does that mean for COVID and what does that mean, you know, like in Lake Charles, right, when they had the hurricane, Hurricane Laura. Then they had COVID, but then they had the biolab fire all at the same time on a hot day and they were told to shelter in place. Don’t open your windows and doors. Don’t turn on your air conditioner. What does that do?
Betty: And what does that do, what are the long lasting effects of that further on down the line?
Jonathan: Yeah, I mean, Flint Michigan, right. Is that a lead problem?
Adrienne: Exactly, or is that a little bit more, right.
Betty: Right. And I think what you’re talking about, which was so manifest in the pandemic right now, because we’re all interdependent. If we wear a mask, we protect other people from whatever we’ve got. And if we don’t, we spread and we could be super spreaders. And I think that that is really something that people want to deal with or don’t want to deal with, the accountability and responsibility. And so with these interrelationships, because I mean, I think we’ve been saying on the podcast til we’re blue in the face, we’re in this perfect storm right now of these five things. And what you’re saying is they’re all connected. They’re not happening siloed. And I think, interestingly, we kind of think in siloed ways. Maybe it’s Western thought, I’m not, you know, sure of the roots of it. But it can be really useful to say, in fact, these are not separate, that they are caused by each other. So run us down for you because you’re a climate change expert, you’re an expert on environmental justice, you’re a lawyer, you also worked for the CDC, but, you know, you’ve got a lot, we’ve got a lot to say to you or ask you, but where do you start? I mean, it’s a chicken and egg kind of thing, but where does it begin for you?
Adrienne: Well, first, let me say I did not work at CDC. I worked at the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, which is a sister agency to CDC. Not that there’s any competition, I’m just saying. So, you know, that’s a good question. And where it starts for me is with people. So I look at what affects people and all of these different things affect them. And so that’s where I begin because I don’t know if that’s the public health part of me or, you know, when I finished law school, everything was that’s a lawsuit you need to, oh there’s a lawsuit, but now and before that and it’s always, the question is always how does this affect the average person?
And I always say that communities really, and well, the public, really has three questions, right, I do. What is it, how does it affect me, and what can I do about it? And all of those situations apply there. So when I talk about COVID, that when you have somebody who’s already economically oppressed then how is that going to affect them? My brother is an essential worker and when his restaurant closed, they, you know, they weren’t given any money. And I called about his rent and I said, well, you know what are you guys doing? What break are you giving them? Well, if they pay early, they get fifty dollars off. And I said, well, 50 from zero is, you know, zero, and I said–
Betty: And paying early from zero is impossible.
Adrienne: Right, if you’re not working. And this is just indicative of the fact that we weren’t ready.
Betty: Mm hmm.
Jonathan; Do you think we’re built to, I mean, complex problems, interrelated problems, intersectional problems take a tremendous amount of, I mean, as you know, tremendous amount of work and energy and coordination, collaboration to break down. Are we built the right way, are we structured the right way to combat intersectional problems like this?
Adrienne: And that’s what I meant, Jonathan, when I just said we weren’t ready.
Adrienne: We could be structured that way, yes. If we learned lessons from the past, from Hurricane Katrina and everything that happened since, yeah we could be ready. And if we learned from this, right, from this, as Betty said, this perfect storm, we could be ready because who’s to say that this is never going to happen again?
Jonathan: Oh it will.
Adrienne: Exactly. So, let’s let’s never let this happen again. Where we’re caught unawares. So I think we have what it takes to be, to have everything in place, to be structured. We just haven’t done it. And it does take time.
Betty: So when you’re talking about Hurricane Katrina, we didn’t learn those lessons. And then I was thinking about Hurricane Harvey and the Houston response to Hurricane Harvey, which did bring together a consortium of different agencies and a coalition of competing agencies and interests because it was a concrete hurricane, like people were flooded, people had to come together from both sides of the aisle and go get neighbors that were stranded in buildings or even animals and deal with areas. Everybody got flooded in Houston. Now, a pandemic, and particularly something like COVID, is weirdly abstract, even though it’s concrete, meaning where people are getting hurt and sickened and we’re losing people. And yet it’s different from 80 mile an hour winds or buildings falling down. And I wonder what you think of that, Adrienne, in terms of how we might come together or how we might be forced to learn or if we will be.
Adrienne: Yeah, I think it’s different, but I think it’s scarier because it touches, you know, it’s stealthy, sort of. But I also, I don’t think that there are very many people left who have not been touched by COVID-19 in some way, have lost family members or have had family members who were sick. And I think that the lesson, if that was your question, is that we first need to think broadly, right, because we did say that it was connected. So I think once we start addressing the existing issues before COVID, in the before time, as I like to call it, if we address the structural racism and the effects of climate change and economic injustices and things of that nature, then I think that’ll prepare us a little bit better for COVID. You know, if people make enough money to have food, then they don’t have to stand in line because they just were living, you know, check to check.
Betty: Right, right.
Jonathan: Right. If you’re the people who are most marginal, what do they say, when it rains in America, it pours. And I think it’s absolutely true. If you’re vulnerable when something strikes, you’re going to be–
Betty: It’s worse.
Jonathan: –you’re going to be the first one hit. And, you know, the preparation point, though, it’s a really interesting one, because in hindsight, we know that the Obama administration had a pandemic preparedness playbook.
Jonathan: They wanted to hand it off to the Trump administration. But I wonder, as sophisticated and empathic as the Obama administration was, do you think that that playbook addressed all of the intersectional issues, or was it mostly focused on dealing with a virus and a vaccine.
Adrienne: And see, I have no idea, I haven’t seen it, but I would hope that it was because of the interconnectedness. But something else you said, I’m so glad you said it. I want to step back and I don’t know, you said communities who are vulnerable or vulnerable communities. So I, that term for me, it’s not my favorite because I feel like the communities aren’t vulnerable. We’ve put them in situations, in the vulnerable situations.
Jonathan: Oh, for sure.
Adrienne: Yeah, just wording because these people, you know, people bounce back. And even, you know, when you look after Hurricane Katrina, remember people were lost and they couldn’t find family members and people were put on busses and crazy, right. But eventually, and maybe there are still some people who are lost to us, you know, we don’t know what happened. But for the, people bounce back. They didn’t go back, like to the Ninth Ward, Lower Ninth Ward, everybody couldn’t go back. But they are resilient in spirit, right, and in the ability to fight. But the situation where they were located, yeah.
Jonathan: Listen, I mean, I think vulnerable doesn’t mean of their own volition or that they’re just sitting and waiting to be hit. But but I think there are communities that have been victimized, that have been cut out, that have been overlooked, that have been not listened to. And that’s all I meant was.
Adrienne: Yeah, I didn’t mean you. I just wanted to, that opportunity was so perfect that I know you didn’t mean it that way, but I was like, oh I got to say this, you know, because–
Jonathan: I appreciate that.
Adrienne: Yeah. Because, you know, a lot of communities point that out.
Betty: Well, and I also appreciate that, Adrienne, because you point to the prospect of healing. It’s not identified as inherent to the community, it’s the situation. And then we all have a hand in this situation and we can change it. And then the people who live there, can heal from that. And I wonder if, you know, talking about Hurricane Katrina, what do you think we did do right in emerging from there or good things that happened and, of course, things that we still could stand to relearn or that we have to kind of go back around the horn there.
Adrienne: Wow. So this is definitely my opinion. I think that what we did right was what happened afterwards when people came together to help and clean up and rebuild. You know, I went down there because I have, you know, I’m from Mobile so that’s two hours away, two and a half hours away. So I knew people there and just talking to them and listening and helping and, I mean, what else, think about it. The trailers that were provided, some were contaminated. Everybody couldn’t use them. People didn’t get financial assistance that they needed. Everybody didn’t get it. So what really stands out for me is the way that the citizenry responded.
Betty: Mm hmm.
Adrienne: You know, the way we all came together. And that is something that you see that we’ve seen some of in COVID-19, some of that same behavior, which I, you know, which people are so, so grateful for, right. So, yeah, you know, what could have been different was, I don’t know, you know, that was the first lesson and, like, when people were told to evacuate and they went to the Superdome.
Betty: Mm hmm.
Adrienne: And I mean, was there a way that people could have known that it was going to actually not be the safest place? I don’t know. You know, but I think that when things are built in the future, they need to be built with the possibility of what if in mind, you know, so it’s better to be safe, right. And we need to I think if we had, if there was a way to do more adaptation, you know, instead of mitigation, not instead of, in addition to mitigation, then we wouldn’t have, I think we’d be in a better place, a better situation.
Betty: What do you think are the barriers to adaptation versus mitigation?
Adrienne: Well, I’m not an expert here either, but I do know that financial considerations are really important because adaptation in the immediate run is more expensive, but in my opinion, in the long run, it pays for itself.
Betty: Right, right. So it’s taking a longer view in the investment of it. This is something that always is on my mind with activists and people who are, like yourself, who really enter into something that is at times really frustrating and disappointing to see people not do the right thing or that it’s going to take a long, long haul. It’s a long slog to see improvements happening. And then a disaster comes and the same lessons are learned or it can feel almost like you’re rolling a ball up a hill and getting crushed again. How do you keep it going? Like what do you, what sustains you in this work?
Adrienne: Wow, that’s a good question or that’s a good topic. If you were, on Fridays, I used to have, until I became too busy, a group of my friends who, women, would get together. I had a Zoom line and everything, and we’d just get together online and talk on Saturdays. All of us were kind of in the environmental field, but different levels like somebody’s a secretary, somebody is just starting out. You’d have a dean, you know, just different groups of people and talk about just not only how messed up the week was, but just about issues in general, like we would literally save the world and, you know, solve all the problems. And then, you know, we wouldn’t remember because it was a happy hour, but, you know, we would save all the problems and that really sustains you. That and then at work in my particular program area, we would set aside some time, particularly after as COVID, you know, with COVID, to just talk about nothing and not nothing that’s work related. Just take that time out.
And then it’s just calling people that I know who are working in this area and helping each other, like lifting each other up. And that’s the only way that works is to have other people support you, even if you don’t want to burden your family all the time about, you know, then they’re going to worry that you’re depressed. And, you know, whereas people who work with you are like, okay, I know today was a bad day, right? I’m like, yeah, it sucked. This is what happened. I was beating my head up against the wall and I’ll do that. I’ll tweet. I just tweeted last week. I said, sometimes I feel like I’m deliberately knocking my head up against a brick wall.
Betty: That’s what it can even look like, you know, from the outside, because this thing is so big, you know, and it’s so multi-tentacled and what you’re saying echoes what we do in trauma work because I work with sexual assault survivors and we get long weeks, too. But it sounds like you debrief. And so you kind of go with the folks who are in your field and wherever they’re coming from. And you have just an exchange like a mutual recognition of what you’re going through.
Adrienne: So like a bitch session.
Adrienne: Can you say that on the radio? I don’t know.
Betty: Yes you can.
Jonathan: On this one you can.
Adrienne: You know what’s important? I have a group of friends from law school who don’t do anything, any of the stuff that I do, and I get to talk to them about it and they ask all the, you know, they listen because this is something new to them and I listen to them and they listen to me. So sometimes it’s having that fresh perspective, too. So I think it’s just being able to talk to people who we don’t work with every day, all the time. Like I said, sometimes that’s what you need too, but it’s being able to debrief. And it’s hard when you’re in COVID, it’s hard, right. Because stepping away is hard. Like today, my day doesn’t end until, for a couple more hours. So it’s hard to make that distinction between work and home sometimes.
Jonathan: And we’re so isolated, right. I mean, we’re in our Zoom boxes and all the rest. I want to take you back a few months and speak about a moment where we came out of our Zoom boxes and that was around the George Floyd murder. For me anyway, it was a moment where the intersectional aspect of the syndemic of these multiple crises really seemed to come together into stark relief for the American public, for the world. And I wonder if you could comment a little bit, given the focus of your work on environmental justice, environmental racism, about how COVID and George Floyd and that moment affected you?
Adrienne: Yeah, that, yeah, you know, my first, my initial feeling was just utter sadness because it took that for people to wake up. I mean, how sad.
Adrienne: And how many people died before that, right. And then it became a realization that people were finally listening, you know, I mean, the environmental justice community, people have been doing this way longer than me and they’ve been talking and talking and I’m sure sometimes feeling like, most of the time feeling like nobody was listening. And then somebody asked me right after Mr. Floyd was murdered, is it too soon to talk about environmental justice and what happened? And I was like, absolutely not. How can you not talk about, that’s just like I made the connection with public health. You can’t talk about public health without talking about climate change, without talking about racism, you know what I’m saying? Everything is connected. And so it’s never too soon, you know, but I think it can be a little too late. And I think the fact that so many people have passed makes it late.
But now that people are listening, you know, it’s not too late. But I think it’s harder and the COVID, I think, kind of opened people’s eyes to a lot of things. I don’t know why, like, what it is about COVID in particular that made people stand up and notice that, hey people are being murdered or hey there’s is a lot of police brutality. And people have been saying this or hey a lot of prisons don’t have air conditioning and people are living in inhumane conditions. And a lot of homeless people don’t have access to water. When those are messages I know I’ve been giving and I know people before me have, but now I know I notice that, like, communities that I work with made a deliberate effort to provide running water to homeless populations, not only because of climate change, but also because this is the one thing you can do, wash your hands and do these things. At least we can do that.
The least of which we could do is provide water for you, because, you know, in the middle of this climate, this heat, extreme heat issue, your shelter is probably going to close during the day if you’re around people who may be asymptomatic COVID carriers, whatever you want to call it, you know, at least you can do that. And so I think people just started thinking, I don’t know if it was because they were home all the time and had more time to listen or because it was just people were just fed up. I think it was also social media, right. People saw it. It isn’t the first time people have seen something like this, but it’s I mean, the man had his knee on his neck and there’s nothing like that, you know, and then I think putting it on social media for most people, particularly people of color, was just reliving it and and making it worse, you know, but it comes to a point. I’m sure we all have our points where enough is enough. I mean, I’m sure you can tell us incidences where whatever the situation was, enough is enough.
Betty: Right, right.
Adrienne: And people just reached that breaking point at the same time because of the just the incredible, I think that in addition to just the way things have been these last few years, it looks like the final straw.
Betty: It’s a pressure cooker.
Jonathan: Maybe it’s because it’s winter, maybe it’s because of exhaustion, but the marches are not happening now.
Adrienne: Well, some are.
Jonathan: There are some marches, but certainly, and there will be again, but are you feeling optimistic? Are you feeling like we got to keep the pressure on? Where is your head in terms of the response?
Adrienne: Yeah. When I said some marches are, you know, of course, you have the Trump supporters who are saying that the voting was rigged and all of that, right. So they’re marching. And I’m always hoping that there are no people of color out there, you know, doing the countermarch or whatever, that, you know, I feel like we are keeping the pressure on. You know, there are a lot of people out there working from the election on, you know, even before that with voter suppression and all that sort of thing. And people haven’t stopped. You know, we’re looking at, as President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris began to form their team.
Adrienne: People are looking and not only looking, but commenting. Not only commenting, but writing letters and, you know, and protesting in social media. And by social media, I mean more than just Twitter, whatever. I’m talking about writing letters to the press or, you know, The New York Times or whoever. So I think people are definitely still putting on the pressure and I don’t think that’s going to stop.
Jonathan: Well, so on the climate side, it seems like the Biden Harris administration is taking some dramatic steps, right, John Kerry is climate czar, Deb Haaland is interior secretary, Gina McCarthy as domestic climate, I mean, what’s your response to these announcements and what does it say about the future?
Betty: And to piggyback off of that, you said in another interview that we have to be our own cavalry and–
Adrienne: The cavalry isn’t coming.
Betty: The cavalry isn’t coming. Now, is this the cavalry coming or is this like, you know, something else or are you optimistic?
Adrienne: I think that this is part of the cavalry.
Betty: Mm hmm.
Adrienne: I think that the people who are providing input is another part of the cavalry. And I think that we have to wait and see how all this plays out. I don’t think it’s, this isn’t the end. This is the beginning. And it is exciting on so many levels, you know, from just, from a diversity inclusion racial issue beginning to address the unfair activities that have occurred these last four years of hell. Can I say that on the radio?
Betty: Yes, you can.
Jonathan: I’ll say it again.
Adrienne: That’s what it was, like waking up from a nightmare. And so, you know, when Deb Haaland was named, so excited, you know, such a blessing on so many different ways, because now you have people who not only get it, who live it, right, who understand it. And that’s what it’s really about. You got to get the best protections and come up with the best partnered results by having people in there who really have buy in, who in some way they have lived experiences, whatever that looks like, right. As opposed to somebody who’s been totally removed from this and could really care less or who has outside interests that don’t really relate, like they may have profit over people. Let me just say it like that. So I’m hopeful.
Betty: So when you were saying, like, sometimes it can feel like you were screaming and no one’s listening, here you’ve got people who are not going to silence this, who are going to, who have proven to be listeners and who have the ears to hear this. Do you feel like they, like you, see syndemics, that these are intersections?
Adrienne: I think they do. If you look at the transition page, he lists these things, right. How amazing. I was like was he in my mind or what? But I mean, I think that they do because they are interconnected. There’s no way that you can’t. Everybody’s talking about it. Everybody’s living it. You can’t, you know, you cannot unmake it, because when people talk about, as I said, economic issues and what they’ve seen with the pandemic and how the stimulus packages are so important but ridiculously small, right. And people are saying this is ridiculously small, but you hear about people, who would rather not go back to work because they’re making more on unemployment than they did at work. How crazy is that?
Betty: Yeah, yep.
Adrienne: Right? I don’t blame them. I wouldn’t go back. But then on the other hand, you have this new rule or whatever it is that allows employers to report people who won’t come back to work. You know, that’s crazy. Like how about just hire somebody else or whatever? If you give people what they need, then we can shut down for a while and we could get over this like other places have, other countries have. But right now people have no choice. They need to work. You know, that’s the situation that they’ve been put in for whatever reason. I’m going to say racism, but, you know, that’s not always the case. It can be the, you know, sometimes it’s as simple as rich people, poor people, right. And there’s no consideration for poor people if you’re very rich. You’re like, I’m just, hey I’m just trying to get mine. I’m not thinking about them, like it’s sort of like Marie Antoinette, right. Let them eat cake, right.
Betty: Mm hmm. And what you point to is the class aspect of this, which is a factor in the inequities that this points up, the haves and the have nots and the splits, the huge splits. There are some people doing better in the pandemic than worse because they’re in corporate environments, which is stunning and upsetting. And you’ve referred back to the economic aspects and the negligence of economic need. And it seems like there’s not an assessment of need. And we, you know, we do needs assessment in social work and that these stimulus packages seem to, sort of, still a little bit miss what is needed and what is hurt, which requires care. And it always throws me back to the politics of care, which we talked to a previous guest, Deva Woodly, who’s a political scientist on grassroots movements, and she focuses on Black Lives Matter and Black Lives Matter is focused on the politics of care, which focuses on wellbeing as the center of politics rather than economics. And so I wonder if you can maybe see us shifting or negotiating a shift like of us being focused on SNP numbers and stock market rising as measures of our health rather than, you know, really looking at whether people are suffering or not as measures of our health and wellbeing.
Adrienne: I think that you’d have to do them together. I don’t think it’s the one or the other sort of thing, right. I think that there are going to be those who are more concerned about profits. And we saw that even when people were buying up all of the paper towels and the toilet paper, and then selling it at 700 percent interest.
Betty: Right and the hand sanitizer, you know.
Adrienne: But I think that we need to, you have to do both. And then I think that should be part of what I’ve come to learn is needed, an environmental needs assessment. You talked about needs assessment, well this one talks about all of those different aspects of it. And initially it was more about exposures and where you were living and cumulative exposures. And now we have to add to that these other inequities, like what makes you more at risk, you know, and the whole, like, for example, the relationship between COVID and asthma or particulate matter and things like that. So let’s do some calculations on how much is it going to cost to develop a system just with cleaner scrubbers, like whatever you’re releasing is not, you know, not at the level that’s going to cause so many health effects because you’re not going to move communities, we already see that that’s not going to happen. It should happen in some instances, but–
Jonathan: Adrienne, do you think the Green New Deal, that the way it’s written, the way it’s structured, does it start from an intersectional place or is it too siloed? Does it consider the needs, as you’ve described, the needs assessment?
Adrienne: Okay, so I don’t know much about the Green New Deal, except maybe the framework. And I’m going to say I don’t think it’s siloed in my opinion. I think it’s the beginning of intersectionality.
Adrienne: And I don’t know what it’s going to be, but I know that it’s going to be something that incorporates a lot of different areas and entities and interests.
Jonathan: It would seem so. I mean, right. I put it if you can create the incentive through profit motive, not only about concern for the climate and concern for people, but also profits and also jobs and everything else, take an intersectional approach.
Adrienne: Yeah, I mean, we already know that just focusing on profit doesn’t work, right. We had four years of that. And at the, you know, to the detriment of people. So of course we haven’t to my knowledge, I mean, as long as I’ve been alive, which as we all know, hasn’t been that long, we haven’t focused just on people before. So, and because it doesn’t make sense, because, you know, I just talked about economy, all those kind of things. So it seems that the best approach would be to incorporate everything. And that’s sort of like when you talk about bringing all the stakeholders to the table, your economist, your engineer, your community member, your small business owner, farm worker, farm owner, everybody, because everybody has a stake in making this a success, right. And I don’t know if, people don’t know how to do that, but I think that we’re willing to do it. I don’t know how to do it, but I know I’m open to it and I know it’s necessary.
Betty: And so in terms of this human centered approach, Adrienne, you know, in terms of environmental justice and all of the syndemic in how we crawl out of it or how we address it in the future or future syndemics, what would be like your top three steps?
Adrienne: Wow. The top three things that I would do or that this president would do?
Betty: That you would do. I want the world according to Adrienne.
Adrienne: Oh, well then in that case, the first thing I would do is establish trust and credibility, you know, and that includes having a trusted source for information. And people can, everybody can go to and know that this source is the truth and transparency is good and everything’s good. And then I think if people trust you or are beginning to trust you, that you’re going to get people participating and interacting with you on a more in-depth level. And you won’t get so much. you won’t get so many people siloed. So that would be the first thing. And then the very next thing is to address this, the economic aspects, the things that we’ve seen with COVID-19 that we know extend far beyond that, because we’ve got to get people some, you know, get them some money and get them some money so that we can then, by doing that, address the third thing, which is COVID-19. Right, because people can’t stay home.
And for those who don’t want to wear their mask, I think we might need a little federal action or start, you know, fining people. Because what you’re doing, nobody cares if, you know, it’s not about you. It’s about the people you talk to or you’re exposed to. You know, I have a neighbor who doesn’t wear a mask and when I see him everyday, I’m like, you’re welcome. And he just starts laughing. I said you’re welcome because I’m wearing this for you. And then I’ll say but you obviously don’t give a damn about me because you’re not wearing one. And that’s what it is. So, you know, I’d talk to the people at the state and local level and health departments and see what we need to do in that regard to get people to wear their masks. People in other countries do it and it works. And I don’t know what people need to be convinced. But, yeah, I think in, you know, if we do those three things, we’re well on our way. We have a long way to go. A lot of things to fix because a lot things are broken.
Jonathan: I think you’ve laid out a fabulous recipe, the building blocks for a successful future. And we appreciate you coming to spend time with us on Mind of State. We look forward to continuing the conversation.
Adrienne: Thank you. I enjoyed it.
Betty: Thanks for joining us on this episode of Mind of State. If you liked this episode, you’ll find plenty more on Apple podcasts or anywhere else you get your podcasts.
Jonathan: You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram at Mind of State Pod. Our website is MindofState.com.
Betty: Mind of State is produced by Alletta Cooper and Jenny Woodward. Special thanks to our co-founder, Thomas Singer. I’m Betty Teng.
Jonathan: And I’m Jonathan Kopp. Join us next time on Mind of State.