NEWS Berkeley Conversations: Climate Change and Covid-19, can the crisis shift the paradigm?

April 27, 2020.  To watch the webi­nar, click here.

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A pan­el of UC Berke­ley experts dis­cussed Mon­day what effect COVID-19 is hav­ing on the envi­ron­ment. (UC Berke­ley video)

Ever so slow­ly, com­mu­ni­ties around the globe are cau­tious­ly eas­ing shel­ter-in-place orders, and peo­ple are head­ing back to work — bring­ing with them dam­ag­ing behav­iors that hurt the envi­ron­ment and impact cli­mate change, such as increased reliance on sin­gle-use plas­tic gro­cery bags.

But it doesn’t have to be that way, say four UC Berke­ley envi­ron­men­tal and ener­gy experts. Instead, they say, the cur­rent COVID-19 pan­dem­ic offers lessons in how shared glob­al solu­tions can help beat back the con­tin­ued threat of cli­mate change.

We can restart the econ­o­my and put peo­ple back to work, and we have to do so in a way that we’re tak­ing advan­tage of where renew­able ener­gy is today — then there’s a real­ly pos­i­tive oppor­tu­ni­ty,” said Dan Kam­men, pro­fes­sor and chair of the Ener­gy Resources Group and pro­fes­sor of pub­lic pol­i­cy and nuclear engi­neer­ing. “We have to put peo­ple back to work in a way that’s equi­table and green.”

Dis­pos­able plas­tic bags have made a come­back as peo­ple have grown leery of being too close to oth­er peo­ple and their pos­ses­sions. In a num­ber of cities and states, includ­ing San Fran­cis­co, new bans on plas­tic bags have been delayed or exist­ing bans have been tem­porar­i­ly halt­ed and cus­tomers ordered not to bring into shops their own bags, mugs or reusable items from home.

Kam­men, along with col­leagues David Ack­er­ly, dean of the Rauss­er Col­lege of Nat­ur­al Resources, Kate O’Neill, pro­fes­sor of envi­ron­men­tal sci­ence, pol­i­cy and man­age­ment, and Valeri Vasquez, a Ph.D. can­di­date in the Ener­gy and Resources Group, were part of a Berke­ley Con­ver­sa­tions pan­el that exam­ined on Mon­day how the pan­dem­ic has caused seis­mic shifts in how we pro­duce and con­sume goods and could also open a path to a more sus­tain­able future.

Right before the out­break, we were actu­al­ly start­ing to feel like we could make a real dif­fer­ence in terms of get­ting rid of sin­gle-use plas­tics and solv­ing a lot of the issues with glob­al waste streams,” O’Neill said. “But for any of us who’ve been in the Berke­ley Bowl park­ing lot recent­ly, one of the first things we might have noticed is a lot more lit­ter. Plas­tic bags, rub­ber gloves, masks. This is some­thing we’re going to have to push back on and real­ly ques­tion. The main prob­lem com­ing up is going to be rein­stat­ing zero waste poli­cies once (the pan­dem­ic) is over.”

Vasquez under­scored how the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic is reveal­ing deep soci­etal inequities and also demon­strat­ing the inter­con­nect­ed­ness of health, cli­mate and sus­tain­abil­i­ty issues.

The pub­lic health and cli­mate debates are real­ly inex­tri­ca­bly linked,” she said. “In our high­ly con­nect­ed world, a dis­ease that orig­i­nat­ed 3,000 or 6,000 miles away can be at our doorsteps in a day or less. So, the way that we mobi­lize against COVID-19 needs to be reflect­ed in the way that we mobi­lize against that oth­er big glob­al afflic­tion called cli­mate change.”

Berke­ley Con­ver­sa­tions: COVID-19, are a series of live, online events fea­tur­ing fac­ul­ty experts from across the UC Berke­ley cam­pus who are shar­ing what they know, and what they are learn­ing, about the pan­dem­ic. All con­ver­sa­tions are record­ed and avail­able for view­ing at any time on the Berke­ley Con­ver­sa­tions web­site.

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