The spread of coronavirus has left few, if any, communities untouched. Governments have had to react quickly. Emergency distancing measures have been put in place, workers have been ordered to stay at home, and relief packages are beginning to flow. This is what government action looks like in a time of disruption. And this newfound sense of rapid mobilization and response provides a powerful lesson for the next crisis we know is coming: climate change.
In fact, climate change is already here. Last year was the second warmest year on record, and wildfires ravaged forests in the West. The world was surprised by the emergence of a new disease with global impacts, but climate change is not new. The risk is real and the risk is now.
However, with the public’s attention focused on coronavirus, the Trump administration weakened environmental rules, allowing industry to self-regulate its air and water pollution. Fuel efficiency standards were also rolled back, leading to increased greenhouse gas emissions. We must keep the pressure on for strong environmental protections at the state and federal levels, despite the coronavirus crisis. I encourage you to support NYS bill A.1424(Simon)/S.5013(Parker) which would allow citizens to directly challenge violations of state environmental laws, providing important oversight of polluting industries.
The most inspiring response to coronavirus has been the mutual aid from person to person. We understand, more than at any time in recent memory, that we share a common societal bond. A solution must be reached together. Once coronavirus is vanquished (and it will end), our shared response to the pandemic must inform us how to move ahead and confront climate change.
Governments, including New York State, have an upfront example of the widespread mobilization required to make important change.
If we can use private industry to produce ventilators and protective equipment in a time of need, why can’t we use the same strategy to build renewable energy capacity and battery storage, in quick order, to transition our electricity sector away from fossil fuel generation? If we could take swift action to construct emergency hospitals across the state during this pandemic, NYS can similarly make use of trained professionals to weatherize, insulate, and install heat pumps in homes and buildings to reduce our energy demand. The risk to our lives, our homes, and our jobs calls for an urgent, all-out response. Strong environmental leadership in New York State has never been more important.
During coronavirus, governments are willing to spend ample amounts of money to react to and minimize the harm. With climate change, the federal and state government must also be willing to spend, and must include emissions reduction measures in any future bailout package. Airlines must be required to reduce emissions, subsides to fossil fuel companies must end, renewable energy tax incentives must be renewed, state and local build-out of electric vehicle charging stations must not be halted in uncertain economic times.
Coronavirus taught us a lesson in government and social action. The time to act is now!