We didn’t prevent the Coronavirus. But we can recover from it and prevent the next big crisis at the same time.
If we listened to scientists, the coronavirus crisis could have been prevented. But now, the coronavirus is here, and it’s affecting every aspect of our society. Similarly, scientists have been warning us about the profound crises that would emerge with unchecked global warming.
Now, we have the opportunity to rebuild our economy and listen to the scientists on climate change at the same time. We need to rebuild with clean energy and climate solutions. We need to rebuild Maryland with a Climate Stimulus.
Coronavirus Demonstrates How Climate Change Turns Up the Dial of Human Suffering
The climate crisis is already here, but it will get much worse if we don’t act. The devastating coastal flooding that wipes out a city will happen more frequently. But it is the everyday extreme heat and air pollution that will latch itself on to other public policy problems — in education, public health, economic well-being, and public safety — and turn up the dial of human suffering at a far greater scale.
Air pollution that warms the planet — from coal-fired power plants to gas heating in our homes to motor fuels — already kills thousands of Marylanders every year (1,893 in 2018) by making them more prone to respiratory and cardiovascular disease. So it was no surprise when a Harvard study released in April found that just a small increase in exposure to air pollution makes someone 15 percent more likely to die from COVID-19. It’s very likely that there is great overlap between the thousands of Marylanders who are dying from coronavirus and the thousands of Marylanders who are dying from air pollution. And in both cases, it is Black Marylanders who are dying at disproportionate numbers.
Climate Action Must Be Central to Economic Recovery
One out of every six working Marylanders has filed for unemployment since the pandemic started in March. And according to analysis from the Board of Revenue Estimates, post-coronavirus economic recovery could last as long as three years.
The renewable energy sectors that are vital to transitioning to a clean economy were not spared. According to analysis of federal employment data, Maryland lost roughly 12,000 clean energy jobs in March and April alone. Business leaders say the state has lost half of its entire solar energy workforce. Making matters worse, Trump Administration policies have tied up the state’s two already-approved offshore wind projects, and jeopardized 2,000 jobs by limiting the scope of future projects.
Instead of allowing our clean energy progress to get wiped out, Maryland should be rebuilding our economy with climate action at the core of recovery.
What a Climate Stimulus in Maryland could look like:
- Energy Efficiency: The state has an extremely effective energy efficiency program called EmPOWER that could be scaled up even further. That would put Marylanders in the building trades to work replacing old, inefficient energy infrastructure and save struggling homeowners in electricity and heating bills.
- Wind and Solar: Maryland set the ambitious goal of achieving half of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030, but that commitment is in jeopardy without further action. Maryland could start by cutting unnecessary red tape in the permitting process, bringing more than 40 large solar projects online in the next 24 months and creating 3,000 jobs.
- Public Transit: Gas-powered vehicles are by far the greatest source of climate pollution in Maryland. We’ve seen that during the economic shutdown: huge reductions in car travel have given us the clearest skies many of us can remember. Let’s direct our public transportation dollars to building out bus and rail lines that keep many of those cars from ever getting back on the road.
- Planting Trees and Managing Forests: Tackling climate change is not just about preventing future pollution. To do our part, we will need to remove carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere. Fortunately, trees are natural “carbon sinks” that absorb and hold vast amounts of carbon pollution. We can create thousands of good-paying jobs enlisting Marylanders to plant millions of new trees and save our existing rural forests and urban canopy from overdevelopment and invasive disease.
Each of these actions help bring investment and cost savings to Marylanders facing economic hardship and communities of color who have faced historic discrimination.
- Low-income households have been effectively subsidizing the energy efficiency upgrades in higher-income households; growing our efficiency rates means finally making EmPOWER an equitable program.
- Wind and solar projects should be placed in frontline communities near polluting power plants and eventually replace those plants.
- Marylanders who cannot afford to own a car depend on reliable public transit to get to their jobs and pick their kids up from school; expanding public transit would increase mobility for these communities. And taking cars off the road would clean up air pollution in the worst-hit regions. .
- Communities of color are located disproportionately in heat islands, who would see significant health improvements and energy cost savings with more urban tree canopy.
This is not an exhaustive list. We need to install electric vehicle charging stations and electrify our buildings. We need to improve the quality of our soil and increase our recycling and composting. Just about every action that allows for a clean economic transformation is labor intensive. We can’t simply put back the economy the way it was. We need to rebuild for a healthier future. Let’s put climate action at the core of our recovery and save future Marylanders from future crises.
- Fund climate programs to restore the economy, Baltimore Sun, 7/15/2020
- Environmental advocates say clean energy can fire up lagging economy, WDVM, 6/11/2020
- Gonzales Maryland Poll: 64% of Marylanders agree the PSC should speed up wind and solar permitting
- For more background on the PSC’s slowness in approving clean energy projects, read Mike Tidwell’s oped in the Washington Post from June 5.