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.”