The Post-COVID Climate Opportunity
There are periods in human history that determine the fate of nations and the way the world will operate. This is one of those moments.
America responded to the 1918 Spanish Flu, which infected 28 percent of the U.S. population and killed 675,000, by turning inward — passing the xenophobic Immigration Act of 1924 and adopting a policy of isolationism that prevented us from engaging with the world ahead of World War II.
Now, as we grapple with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, we’ve once again reached a turning point: Will we work together to build a stronger America, or let nativism and partisan arguments fill the vacuum?
If this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that we are all intrinsically linked as a human species. COVID-19 knows no boundaries, geography, or race.
Now, Congress has the opportunity to pass legislation that adheres to both Republican and Democratic goals while simultaneously getting America back to work. That’s why both sides of the aisle must work together to pass a bipartisan American Act: legislation that will both reignite job growth and protect public health through a primary focus on combating the climate crisis.
The coronavirus pandemic should have once and for all erased any politicians’ doubts about humans’ impact on the climate. After just a few months of social distancing we’ve already seen the Earth begin to heal itself. Carbon emissions resulting from pollution are down thirty percent in major cities, the canals of Venice are finally clear, and the Himalayan mountaintops are visible for the first time in thirty years.
Clearly, the climate is warming, and humans are the culprit.
The Green New Deal sparked the conversation: addressing climate change through mass economic mobilization of the American people. That it is too partisan to make it through Congress shouldn’t dissuade us from the necessary pursuit.
Republicans want to increase national security and strengthen supply chain resiliency; Democrats want to focus on addressing climate change and protecting public health. Both parties agree we need to get the over 30 million Americans filing for unemployment back into the workforce.
A post-coronavirus recovery effort must address the human impact on climate change while putting people back to work through significant investments in sustainable infrastructure projects creating millions of blue collar jobs for the new, resilient economy.
These investments could include scaling technologies to expand renewable energy, reduce food waste, create sustainable agriculture, and address carbon capturing and energy efficiencies, all of which lead to a more resilient and economically stable nation.
The benefits of investment in renewable energy alone have been well-documented. The US Department of Defense has published reports calling for investment in new energy technology to fortify US safety, reduce dependence on foreign oil, and mitigate against the worst impacts of the climate crisis. In 2018, America added 100,000 net new jobs in clean energy, and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics already forecasts that America’s fastest-growing jobs through 2026 will be employment as a solar installer (105 percent growth) or wind turbine technician (96 percent growth).
Of course, we will need creative new ways to raise revenue to fund these investments. A carbon tax, which would further reduce emissions, would raise billions in revenue.
Investing in a more sustainable world will not only put Americans back to work but will also help protect us against the next pandemic. Research shows that climate change is primed to increase the rate of global infectious diseases. Since 2001, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has cited climate change as a severe risk to human health. And climate change fills the top 5 spots in the 2020 World Economic Forum Global Risk Report, establishing that a warming planet is the stand-out long-term risk the world faces.
Extreme heat in the U.S. is already causing more deaths annually than all other weather events combined, while it’s estimated that more than 90 percent of the world’s children breathe toxic air every day. As if that weren’t enough, experts also predict climate change will lead to food insecurity, prompting communities to turn to alternative food sources like bushmeat and bats — the very animals that are potentially to blame for the coronavirus.
At this critical moment in our nation’s history, we have the opportunity to work together on a solution that not only restarts our economy, but also resets it. A recovery that prioritizes fighting the climate crisis will do just that by helping us create a productive, healthier America and a model for the rest of the world.