Climate Dispatches: Trio of crises: racism, pandemic and climate change
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.
If you are like me, recent events have left you reeling from a mixture of grief and anxiety. Grief for those who have lost their lives, whether due to discriminatory acts of police violence or to the pandemic. And anxiety brought on by the sense that our country is adrift with no firm hand at the helm.
Grief and anxiety aside, one thing that recent events have confirmed is that the health and security for any of us are impossible if these basic human needs are not met for everyone. The pendulum of awareness of racial injustice is swinging. The pendulum of awareness of economic inequality is swinging. With persistence and support from all of us, we will see positive changes to these massive problems in the near future.
As for the pandemic, several interesting data points have recently come to light: a peer reviewed study by researchers at UC Berkeley estimates that the shutdown in this country has averted 60 million infections. A separate study coming out of the Imperial College of London estimates that the shutdowns in Europe saved roughly 3 million lives. However, since June 1, 14 states and Puerto Rico hit their highest seven-day average of new coronavirus infections. The governors of New York and Texas warned this week that if the number of cases starts to rise rapidly, they will be forced to reinstate shelter-in-place orders.
Yes, we need to reopen businesses to avoid total economic collapse, but please wear your mask, maintain 6 feet of distancing where possible and wash your hands frequently!
Of course there is the third major looming threat of climate change. This threat is more insidious as its effects are harder to pinpoint, and the results of any action we take now will not be seen for decades. But make no mistake, climate change will increase inequality and have deleterious effects on our collective health. Climate change makes existing injustice more acute as its effects are felt more strongly by the most vulnerable. Climate change is also predicted to have widespread, serious health consequences, including the increased frequency and range of infectious disease outbreaks.
So where does this leave us? I believe that we will see a resurgence in the pandemic, which will require a re-tightening of social distancing restrictions, leading to another downturn in the economy. There are ominous signs that deficit hawks in Congress and the White House are balking at additional Federal stimulus measures, which could make the pandemic’s financial effects even more catastrophic. This is obviously nothing to hope for, but it may result in a change in leadership in the White House and Senate in November. This is by no means a given, but if it happens, it would increase the possibility of enacting major legislation to address many of our country’s pressing issues: racial discrimination, universal health care, access to higher education and action on climate change. However, if the past is any guide to the future, single party control of the White House and Congress will be short lived.
So how to prioritize? If my prediction holds true, there will still be tens of millions of unemployed come January 2021. To get the economy back on its feet, the federal government will need to spend trillions of additional stimulus dollars. The question is whether we will choose to build our country back to what it was before the pandemic or to something better.
Many citizens and business leaders are calling on our country to use this opportunity to super charge the energy transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy. This action would simultaneously put our country back to work and would save us from the worst effects of climate change. Aspects of the transition to employ millions of workers could be prioritized. Making this happen does not preclude us from addressing many of the other ills that afflict our country, but the first task of an incoming administration will be to pull our country back from the edge of economic collapse.
So why not put our country back to work and make serious strides towards addressing climate change at the same time?
If you find this line of reasoning compelling and would like to learn more, please visit RebuildClimate.org and learn how you can help build the political will to make rebuilding our economy by supercharging the transition to renewable energy priority number one.
Matt Tucker, a Truckee resident, is founder Rebuild Climate.
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