Tackling environmental policy by emulating the pandemic response.
We know what a crisis looks like. We know how to define an emergency. Perhaps we weren’t totally sure of these definitions before the coronavirus wreaked havoc on our lives and livelihoods, but we know now. Yet Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden is still using this same rhetoric about urgency and emergency to push his economy-changing climate change agenda.
Biden is effectively trying to shift the focus of our fear from coronavirus to climate change. It’s as though he believes that once this crisis has done with us, the American public will be ready to take their anxiety to a whole new economy disrupting level and tackle climate change as though it too is a coronavirus level crisis. It isn’t.
Speaking to Washington State Governor Jay Inslee on his “Here’s the Deal” podcast, Biden said that climate change is an “existential threat” and that bad things will happen if we don’t take “bold action.”
“What lessons can the American people learn from this pandemic to help ensure that we move quickly to address climate change before it’s too late, or is there a connection?” Biden asked Inslee from his Delaware basement studio.
“Oh yeah, big connection,” Inslee said. “Y’know you could think of COVID-19 as a metaphor for the, it’s kind of a fast acting climate change. Climate change is much slower but equally fatal, and the COVID-19 situation is kind of a metaphor for the whole effort we’re now engaged in. Number 1 it means that you need to act early and we need bold leadership to do that, and that’s why I’m looking forward to your leadership in the White House on this.”
But coronavirus is not a metaphor. It’s a virus that has uniquely invasive properties. We know that the bad things it can cause include death and total economic devastation. The impact of that is being seen worldwide. Our national and local leaders effectively dealt with the coronavirus by doing anything they could think of, no matter how absurd sounding. This has been the call to action of climate change activists for years.
Greta Thurnberg told us to behave as though our house was on fire, to be enraged, to freak out. But this coronavirus crisis is what freaking out looks like, and it turns out that not only is climate change not a “house on fire” scenario, but that behaving as though your house is on fire leaves a vibrant economy in free fall and 27 million people unemployed through no fault of their own.
Biden went on to say that “I think that we have an opportunity… to turn the changing, the climate, generating a fundamentally green infrastructure and turning it around in a way that can be the very thing that helps us get through this existential threat to our economy.”
Biden is here in line with Secretary General of the UN António Guterres, who believes that the recovery from the coronavirus “is an opportunity to build more sustainable and inclusive economies and societies.” Guterres is also on board with spending trillions on a “green transition,” not bailing out industries that rely on fossil fuels, urging investors to invest altruistically, and to “work together as an international community.”
Climate change activists like Greta Thurnberg, Extinction Rebellion, and the more moderate environmental reactionaries like Al Gore, have long been saying that the global economies need to stop in their tracks, regroup, and move in a different, more sustainable direction. Biden and Inslee say that we can use this crisis as something of a model in itself as to how we can be “bold” and “decisive” with climate change action.
No doubt some of those climate change activists who wanted us to freak out are watching the reversal of the industrial impacts on the environment with glee. But as they mark the reduction of carbon dioxide and emissions as a necessary correction or reckoning, we need to be aware of the human cost. We need to care for the planet, but not at the cost of human industry and progress.
“I think we can become a net exporter of the climate change technology,” Biden said. “I think we can become the leader in the world in electric vehicles, I think we can become the leader in the world in wind and energy in a new transmission capacity across the United States.”
Biden’s plans for a new energy economy flies in the face of reason when the U.S. has its oil reserves full to brimming over, and will need to create jobs that take advantage of our existing strengths, not ones that will enhance our already ballooning deficit.
Inslee went on to laud Biden’s previous efforts on climate change, noting that when Biden was in the Senate in the 1980’s he introduced legislation to deal with the environmental impacts of climate change.
However, if legislation was introduced in the 1980’s to deal with the climate change crisis, and this crisis is still so out of control that it is still a crisis, then perhaps it’s not really a crisis. We can’t call climate change a crisis if it has gone on for more than 40 years and our lives and economy were not only extant but thriving before the coronavirus shut down everything.
After a half a century of looking at climate models the U.S. is still generally maintaining the course. We’ve had a few modest adjustments to the energy industry in the form of incentives for sustainable and renewable energy, offsets, and the like.
However when the coronavirus modeling hit, with the precedents of mass cases experienced by so many nations in Europe, the U.S. did the very thing climate change activists have been begging society to do for some time: we turned off the factories, parked our cars for good, shrunk our carbon footprints, and turned off the engine of labour and industry that powers our nation. While we won’t know the long term impact of coronavirus, we know that in the short term unemployment is near 27 million and many of those businesses that closed will never be coming back.
After the coronavirus didn’t actually kill half the population in a matter of months, no one is going to believe these climate change naysayers. And as more and more of their predictions don’t pan out, and renewable energy sources turn out to not be the ultimate fix, we have to learn to stop living in crisis mode.
The 27 million people who are out of work are already in crisis. They should no more be reeducated to become solar panel installers than they should all sign up to work for Amazon.
The calls for us to be worried and outraged all the time have to stop. Once this has passed, we need to grab hold of those things in our economy that are in our favor and explore them as much as possible, not divert our efforts into tackling some new, half century old crisis.