Eco-Justice Ministries  

Eco-Justice Notes
The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries

Climate Action and the Pandemic
distributed 6/19/20 - ©2020

These are times of tumultuous change. Our society -- in the US and globally -- is dealing with an amplifying cascade of shocks.

In less than six months, we've encountered the impeachment trial of a president, a global pandemic, an economic depression, and ongoing protests about racial inequality and police brutality. Unprecedented action has been taken to flatten the curve of the pandemic (but the curve is rising again where those measures have been relaxed too quickly). Astonishingly rapid changes in policies and legislation have addressed police behaviors, and calls to "defund the police" suddenly have real political viability.

And behind all of that, carbon dioxide levels continue their annual steps to record levels, undeterred by the virus-induced shutdown of transportation and industry. April and May of this year were both the hottest of those months on record. 2020 is expected to be one of the seven hottest years in human history -- all of which are within the last seven years -- and there's a reasonable chance that 2020 will be the hottest year ever measured.

In the midst of so much turmoil, will we seek to return to some sort of "normal," or will we claim this moment of disruption and disorientation as an opportunity for even greater change?

I know how that question needs to be answered if we are to have any chance of a livable future. I know how any expression of environmental ethics would have to answer that question. I don't know how citizens and policy-makers will actually respond.

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A substantial article from the E360 website of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies is headlined, "After the Coronavirus, Two Sharply Divergent Paths on Climate."

A short posting on Grist was titled, "Coronavirus is a make-or-break moment for climate change, economists say."

Another Grist article, "We're running out of time to flatten the curve -- for climate change", has a pair of fascinating and frightening animated graphs illustrating how dramatically carbon emissions need to be reduced to limit warming if action were taken in years from 2000 to 2029. (I urge you to take a quick look. The graphics are both factual and emotionally powerful.) With each passing year of delay, the right hand side of the graph gets steeper and steeper. With each year of delay, it is harder and more painful and more costly to get emissions down to bearable levels. If we wait too long, it becomes impossible.

We're in an economic depression. Millions are out of work. What will be done to restart the economy? Will the urgent reality of the climate crisis shape plans for a new kind of economic stimulus? Will this be an occasion to jump-start a "just transition" away from fossil fuels and toward a more just and sustainable society? Or will we bail out the airlines, support the fossil fuel industry, build more highways, and get the packing houses back into full production? (Hint: lots of those steps in the wrong direction are already underway.)

If the US and other countries decide to go the quick and easy route to an economic bounce -- a push for business-as-usual that ignores the climate crisis -- the path to a full-bore climate catastrophe will be pretty much inevitable. The investments in polluting businesses, the commitments to inappropriate infrastructure, and the tax policies for favored industries will define how national economies and climate policies will go for many years to come. If we go the wrong direction in 2020, if the path out of the pandemic-induced depression makes the wrong choices, it will be effectively impossible to stabilize the climate.

That's why a report yesterday from the Guardian had the headline, "World has six months to avert climate crisis, says energy expert."

That's why an email yesterday from the new advocacy group Plus1Vote said:

In 138 days, the fate of our world will be decided. Is that an overstatement? No.

The elections November 3rd are the most important ones. Scientists gave us 10 years to take transformative action to save the planet. And the choices we make in the next 138 days will determine if climate action to save our earth is taken. Now is the moment we must organize on voting for climate action.

Could anybody really want to go the way of increased emissions and guaranteed climate devastation? Here's the opening of a business-oriented report today (note how the "objective" language is incredibly biased toward a purely economic analysis):

Oil consumption is set to recover from the impact of coronavirus more slowly than previously thought, even though the worst of the demand destruction doesn't look quite as awful as had been feared a month ago. ... [A new report] makes grim reading for producers that might have been hoping for a swift recovery in demand back to the levels seen before the Covid-19 pandemic triggered the biggest-ever slump in oil consumption.

The choice before us is stark and urgent. Which path will we take out of this depression?

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The E360 article says that the question of how to battle global warming in a post-coronavirus world is "being asked a lot these days by policy experts and activists." But it isn't being discussed in Congress, or on the editorial pages, or in political campaigns. (In Colorado's Democratic primary for the US Senate race, both candidates talk about the urgency of climate action, but even the most progressive candidate's "fierce urgency to take action" isn't naming aspects of the pandemic recovery.)

Within the last month, we've seen how tens of thousands of passionate people taking to the streets day after day can change the political narrative. This year's Earth Day agenda was intended to have that kind of visible and targeted impact (especially on defunding fossil fuels), but the pandemic pushed the activism on-line. If the right choices are going to be even considered, organized and vocal citizens need to be demanding change.

What kind of change should we be demanding?

At the most basic level, politicians have to be challenged to enact a "green stimulus" package. It has to prioritize renewable energy, and stop incentivizing fossil fuels. It has to include energy efficiency in buildings and transportation. It has to support the agriculture and forestry that sequesters carbon.

There is a proposal that now is the time to nationalize the oil companies. Oil prices are very low, there's a global oil glut, and oil companies are going bankrupt. A public debate about this idea would open up important conversations about who profits, and who loses, when we keep our dependency fossil fuels. It would force us to talk about our climate future.

There's a very serious and very detailed proposal for a new "Civilian Climate Corp" that could be part of a green recovery. Advocates say that this is "our opportunity to create a more equitable country and to fight the impacts of climate change through unprecedented job training and spending on infrastructure and climate change resilience."

The choice before us is stark and urgent. If we do not speak up and act out, if we do not drive climate into the heart of economic and political decisions of the next five months, then we will miss our best opportunity. If we do not act decisively for institutional and economic change, we will be on the path to climate catastrophe.

Will you commit to being part of that activism?

Retirement Countdown -- Peter Sawtell retires as the Executive Director of Eco-Justice Ministries on July 31, 2020 -- now 6 weeks away.

The Board of Directors of Eco-Justice Ministries invites you to join in the celebration of his ministry. Please see updated instructions about participating, including how to submit video greetings, or send cards.


Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

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