Climate Dispatches: Build back better: using recovery to build resilience
The purpose of this ongoing series of “Climate Dispatches” is to share with our neighbors how climate change affects our community and how we can all make a meaningful difference.
Want to get the best value for your coronavirus recovery tax dollar? Then let’s build back better by addressing two crises at once; COVID-19 and climate change. If we use America’s recovery dollars to employ people to build the low carbon economy, we can use the current crisis to solve the next.
There are many similarities between the coronavirus pandemic and the climate crisis, but one that is particularly relevant and actionable is that the effects of both are far less dire when we are prepared and take early steps to mitigate the consequences. The COVID-19 pandemic has delivered a scathing crash course in the consequences of being unprepared as a society for a crisis, and shamefully, one that our leaders knew was coming.
Despite years of warnings from experts and national security teams around the globe about the inevitability of a global pandemic, the U.S. did precious little to prepare. Instead of stock-piling PPE and making plans for contact tracing, we cut public health budgets across the nation and turned a blind eye to the obvious inequities and vulnerabilities in our healthcare system. We find ourselves dealing now with the results: an excruciatingly painful and costly disruption to our economy and our very way of life. How much would it have cost us to be prepared? Nothing close to the $6 trillion (and growing) we’ve spent on cleaning up the mess.
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The effects of climate change are another crisis that we know for sure is already in the making. Coronavirus has just shown us how important it is to mitigate a crisis while we still have a chance to do so. Let’s take the clarity of purpose we’ve gained from COVID-19 to make the choice, now, to get ahead of the climate challenges. This moment is painful, but it is also a gift. It is the gift of an opportunity to come together and act wisely to plan for the next emergency, so that we can avoid this kind of turmoil in the future.
Transitioning to a low carbon economy MUST happen. Banks, big investors and businesses have seen the writing on the wall about climate change: they are shifting away from fossil fuels toward low carbon and renewable alternatives. These sophisticated players have already concluded that carbon-heavy projects are bad business. Individuals need to see the same writing on the wall: a job in fossil fuels is a bad investment in your future; a job building the renewable, low carbon economy is a good investment.
America can get the best return on investment from its recovery dollars and solve two problems at once by ensuring that this money is spent on efforts that hasten the development of renewable energy and transportation infrastructures and the training of a workforce to build them. Renewable energy and energy efficiency projects “create more jobs, deliver higher short-term returns and lead to increased long-term cost savings relative to traditional stimulus measures”, according to a recent study by top U.S. and British economists. Let’s build back better!
Let’s remind ourselves of what and who we are as Americans. We are pioneers and inventors, entrepreneurs and innovators. Transitioning to a sustainable, low carbon economy will not be easy, but it can be done. And American ingenuity and skill can do it. With COVID-19, we have already shown our power to respond and make a difference — as individuals, as corporations, as governments — our individual and collective actions have “flattened the curve”.
America’s economic stimulus and recovery dollars can help us transition to a low carbon, sustainable future while generating much-needed jobs and economic activity. And existing legislation, negotiated on a bipartisan basis and quietly gaining strong support in Congress can help, too. The Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act (H.R.763) bolsters the development of a low carbon economy by putting a gradually increasing fee on fossil fuels as they enter the economy– providing the necessary market signal about the economic and societal costs of carbon pollution and returning the fees collected as monthly “carbon dividends” to all citizens to use as they see fit. To find out more, visit http://www.energyinnovationact.org.
We have a HUGE opportunity at this moment to use the economic stimulus that the governments of the world will inevitably keep pumping out in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, to support the transition to green energy and infrastructure — to a resilient economy that increases security and prosperity for everyone.
What will we tell our children if we waste this chance to reduce our dependence on polluting fossil fuels, avoid the worst effects of climate change and build the healthy and sustainable 21st century economy we need?
Adrianne Kimber and Blair Paterson live in Truckee and are volunteers with the North Tahoe chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby.
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