Climate Action

Practicing empathy in the coronavirus and climate crises

The coronavirus brings the best, as well as the worst, out of people. 

As millions of healthcare workers and volunteers sacrifice their personal wellbeing for those affected by coronavirus, messages of hope and unity surface in every sector of society. Unfortunately, so too do messages of hate and ignorance. 

This “tsunami of hate and xenophobia,” as António Guterres, United Nations’ secretary-general, called it last week, has erupted in racial slurs and attacks, both online and in person. In addition to deeply held societal stereotypes, many of these comments are rooted in ignorance and misinformation.

Some social media platforms have adjusted how they deal with these comments. Just this week, Twitter announced it is marking COVID-19 misinformation as fake news. Other platforms like YouTube have been pulling misinformation videos from their site

These are steps in the right direction, but we must continue to address these negative comments everyday by reframing the conversation about coronavirus through our actions and words. 

“I ask everyone, everywhere, to stand up against hate, treat each other with dignity and take every opportunity to spread kindness,” Guterres said.

No greater example of this exists than in the healthcare industry, culminating in the actions and attitudes of nurses. For the first time ever, International Nurses Day falls in the middle of a pandemic, reminding us of the power of empathy against a destructive and deadly virus. 

If you’ve ever had a medical procedure, you know firsthand the power of this empathy. Research even shows that caring for others can reduce stress, increase happiness and increase our sense of social connectedness — all increasingly important during times of isolation.  

Nurses and healthcare professionals are models of empathy in uncertain times. They’re also stewards for human health. And how they combat the coronavirus pandemic can be a model for how we deal with another global crisis: climate change. 

In the dire and dark times of coronavirus, we can still remind ourselves and others of the gifts of nature — what we’ve lost, what we stand to lose, what we still can fight for — as well as the struggles people all over the world face. 

“I have seen stars in the sky for the first time in 40 years,” says Karuna Singh, Earth Day Network’s director of Southeast Asia, who lives in India. As the coronavirus pandemic has caused air pollution, including India’s dense smog, to plummet, Singh can also see bright sunsets for the first time since her childhood.

Climate change, like coronavirus, is changing our world and affecting people differently. And to tackle both crises, we must stay resilient and project empathy. As we strive to restore our Earth amid the coronavirus pandemic, let nurses and healthcare professionals remind us of this responsibility.