NEWS The Guardian Op Ed: Climate crisis will deepen the pandemic. A green stimulus plan can tackle both
April 20, 2020
For the original in The Guardian, as part of Earth Day coverage, click here.
The Covid-19 epidemic is ravaging our tattered healthcare system and shredding our economy. In the past month, over 22 millionAmericans filed for unemployment benefits, compounding the fear that unemployment could breach 32% absent massive public action. This is an unmitigated human disaster, recalling the horrors of the Great Depression. And it gets worse. We’re also facing the climate emergency. Immediate relief is necessary – but not sufficient. To tackle all these crises at once, we need a Green Stimulus that creates jobs and lifts up communities in ways that also slash carbon pollution, increase resiliency, and develop a just, modern economy.
No one can predict when Speaker Nancy Pelosi and President Donald Trump will turn their full attention to economic recovery. But behind the scenes, the planning has already begun. It’s not a question of whether we spend big on stimulus, but what kind of stimulus.
Climate change is about to supercharge the coronavirus emergency. In April, California’s wildfire season will start. Restrictions on work caused by the pandemic will make it harder for firefighters to conduct controlled burns that steer fires – and smoke – from homes. Californians’ lungs could face Covid-19 and unusually intense smoke at the same time. A third of the country also faces serious flood risk through the spring. And in summer and fall, forecasters predict “above average probability for major hurricanes making landfall along the continental United States”. We’re already seeing this catastrophic convergence elsewhere: In Ecuador, a muted government response to flooding in indigenous communities, for fear of spreading the virus; in Fiji, devastated by Cyclone Harold this week, 19 confirmed coronavirus cases are casting doubt on how to rebuild.
Here too, we will need to find ways to do the needed relief work without deepening the pandemic. Amid all this suffering, the case for bold moves to tackle the miseries of inequality, Covid, and climate at once will get clearer.
Moreover, green stimulus is the only option for a smooth transition to the 21st century green economy. The era of dirty energy is ending. Even the conservative CBNC analyst Jim Cramer has warned investors that oil stocks are no longer safe investments, as society is increasingly repudiating fossil fuels. Giant investors like Blackrock are gradually winding down their investments in carbon. And at the European level, and in countries like Germany and South Korea, a green stimulus-based recovery is becoming the consensus choice, with investments in efficiency and clean energy seen as obvious drivers of economic reconstruction.