NEWS The coronavirus will change our lives, but the environment could see benefits

San Fran­cis­co Chron­i­cle, April 2, 2020

When you look out at the crys­tal blue skies over Cal­i­for­nia, it doesn’t look like a dead­ly pandemic.

In fact, the Bay Area is bask­ing in its clean­est air in months, if not years. And we’re not alone. Satel­lite pho­tos of Chi­na show an unprece­dent­ed drop in pol­lu­tion. World­wide green­house gas emis­sions are falling. And even the planet’s rivers and bays are clear­ing up, includ­ing the famous­ly murky canals of Venice.

At a huge cost to the glob­al econ­o­my, Earth is get­ting a rare gulp of fresh air as soci­ety shuts down in the face of the coro­n­avirus out­break. It’s an envi­ron­men­tal boon that decades of green activism could not achieve.

A green stim­u­lus is a way gov­ern­ments could com­mit to build­ing back green­er, stronger and more equi­tably,” said Daniel Kam­men, a pro­fes­sor of ener­gy at UC Berke­ley, who last month helped author a spend­ing pro­pos­al sent to Con­gress from dozens of sci­en­tists and aca­d­e­mics from across the Unit­ed States.

The plan includes sweep­ing gov­ern­ment invest­ments in renew­able ener­gy, pub­lic tran­sit, high-den­si­ty hous­ing and ener­gy-sav­ing retro­fits of homes and businesses.

The $2 tril­lion stim­u­lus pack­age signed by Pres­i­dent Trump last week does not include this type of spend­ing. But Con­gress has already begun to con­sid­er anoth­er round of relief, and many Democ­rats are on board with hefty expen­di­tures on green infra­struc­ture. So far, Repub­li­cans have fought such cli­mate-friend­ly moves as tax cred­its for renew­able energy.

Kam­men says there’s room for com­pro­mise in the next pack­age. Green pro­grams, for exam­ple, could come along­side Repub­li­can-sought indus­try aid, with con­di­tions attached, like lim­it­ing pollution.

While lament­ing the coro­n­avirus out­break, Kam­men says few peo­ple would be opposed to the clean air and few­er green­house gas emis­sions that the world is expe­ri­enc­ing now.

To look at COVID-19 as an envi­ron­men­tal ben­e­fit is the wrong per­spec­tive,” he said. “What it high­lights, though, is how much envi­ron­men­tal improve­ment can come with easy transitions.”

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