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Oregonian: Opinion: We can act in a crisis. Except when the crisis is climate change.
Author: Barbara Dudley
Posted: April 15, 2020

To read the original, visit the Oregonian.

I can’t and would not argue that this coronavirus pandemic is upon us because of climate change, although certainly there will be many other diseases that will cross borders and decimate many plant and animal species, including humans, with greater ease because of climate change. And in addition to new diseases, there will be droughts and floods and extreme storms, hurricanes, typhoons, blizzards, and wildfires. We know all this. And yet we do nothing to avert that disaster nor flatten that curve. Why? Because the climate change disaster curve is just starting to rise, and when it peaks, the people now in power will be gone. It will be their children and grandchildren who will suffer, and they will suffer a far worse fate than what the coronavirus has in store for the current population.

There has been a lot of scolding of some young people for their casual disregard of the dangers of the coronavirus. We ask them to worry about their vulnerable elders. But those elders too often disregard the very real dangers of climate change. We party as though the warning of carbon emissions leading to a global climate crisis is a hoax, even if we know better. We can take extraordinary measures to flatten the curve of infection by the coronavirus but can’t even begin to meet the milquetoast targets of the Paris Climate Accords.

We seem perfectly capable of coming up with sudden infusions of trillions of dollars into the economy to rescue airlines, cruise lines, retailers and restaurants with instant cash bailouts. We build hospitals overnight. We even bail out workers displaced by the COVID-19 outbreak – unheard of in the United States since the Great Depression – but can’t wrap our heads around the need for a “Just Transition” for workers in the fossil fuel industry, with income support and job retraining as we transition to a clean-energy economy. We can use emergency measures to instantly transform auto factories into manufacturing ventilators and protective gear. But we haven’t the imagination to transform those same factories into making wind turbines and solar panels. We can mandate closures of entire cities, but we can’t mandate energy efficiency in those cities’ buildings. We can order everybody to stay in their homes, but we can’t ask them to insulate their attics.

Maybe there will be lessons from this experience. Maybe our young people will demand that we look at ourselves and what we are capable of when we take a threat seriously. And maybe they will demand that we take equally drastic measures to address the most serious threat facing this planet and their generation – climate change. We can hope.