COVID-19: Crisis and Call to Humanity for a Better Way Forward

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Ronaldo de Oliveira

The global pandemic of COVID-19 is upending societies worldwide, including the US, which as of April 2020, has the world’s largest number of cases and growing.  

Physical distancing to slow the spread of the virus is essential.  At the same time it accentuates the disparities between those who can safely work at home and the over 16 million workers who’ve lost their jobs in the US.  It also lays bare the impacts on those workers deemed essential who nonetheless are forced to work without proper physical protection equipment (PPE) and who continue to reply on public transportation that prevents physical distancing. Across the country, people of color are disproportionately impacted by the virus, with higher rates of infection and death as well as higher rates of job loss and food insecurity. 

Indeed, the COVID-19 crisis exposes the enormous system failures nationwide.  

At Green America, our hearts go out to the millions of people worldwide who are impacted by COVID-19. We are also deeply inspired by and concerned for the healthcare workers treating those in grave condition, as well as the many unsung workers in supermarkets, pharmacies, transit, government services, warehouses, delivery, farming, and all other essential workers on the frontlines of keeping the country running. 

Green America is calling on the US federal government to step up immediate efforts to assist all Americans with their health and economic needs. As a nation, we need to be doing more to support people and communities to bring the virus under control and help the millions of people who are in economic freefall.  

And, we need to see this crisis as a call to humanity and move to a green economy that values all people and the planet.  As we rebuild our economy, we can take this moment to combat the climate crisis though investments in clean energy and regenerative agriculture.  We can insist that corporations address climate change and worker abuses in their supply chains.  And, we can further environmental and racial justice nationwide. 

Read on to see Green America’s response to COVID-19 in full. 

Short Term: We Need Our Federal Government to Step Up 

The $2.1 trillion CARES Act and other stimulus bills are a start towards addressing the impacts of COVID-19, but have too much support for the wealthy, and not enough for average Americans. They are not nearly enough to address our failing economy. Green America joins allies nationwide in calling on federal agencies and Congress to address the impacts of COVID-19 AND build on the recent stimulus bills to: 

  • Provide Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to all medical workers and increased funding to states and hospitals nationwide 

  • Provide PPE to all essential workers nationwide and mandate hazard pay for these underpaid workers 

  • Provide a robust testing, contact tracking and quarantine program based on science so it will be safe to "open the economy," taking full care of people who have been exposed and need to quarantine  

  • Use the Defense Authorization Act to ramp up the production necessary for medical supplies and equipment and equitably distribute them nationwide 

  • Provide greater funding for state governments and hospitals that are facing budget crises 

  • Provide paid time off for all workers who fall ill 

  • Fully cover the healthcare costs for all under- or uninsured people with COVID-19  

  • Cover full pay and healthcare for people who are out of work, including temporary and gig workers 

  • Create a rent and mortgage holiday for those out of work with permanent forgiveness of payments for people who are unemployed  

  • Increase funding for food stamps (SNAP program) to address growing hunger nationwide 

  • Halt all utility shutoffs and forgive current billing for the unemployed 

  • Halt all debt collection 

  • Provide increased funding to address the increase in domestic violence 

  • Provide greater resources to communities of color that are impacted by the crisis 

  • Protect the most vulnerable populations, including the homeless, immigrants, and prisoners 

  • Provide greater financial assistance to small businesses that are the backbone of local economies 

  • Ensure all benefits also go to immigrants, including undocumented immigrants, with no risk of deportation or penalty to the ability to apply for citizenship  

  • Require that all aid going to major corporations includes job and health insurance protection, requires repayment, and prohibits use of proceeds for buying back stock   

  • Tie all aid going to major corporations to environmental protection, such as was done with the automotive industry bailouts of 2008 and 2009, including energy efficiency, clean energy adoption, regenerative agriculture practices, and other measures that reduce carbon emissions and pollution 

  • End the EPA Guidance that halts enforcement of environmental regulations during the COVID-19 crisis and ensure full enforcement of environmental regulations 

  • Provide assistance to renewable energy manufacturers and installers nationwide and prohibit funds from going to fossil fuel corporations 

 States, cities, businesses, and individuals are taking the lead on COVID-19. However, these efforts are at the breaking point, and the federal government needs to do more to slow and then halt the pandemic and stop millions of people from falling into dire poverty, which will have long-term repercussions. 

The Possibility of a Greener World 

COVID-19 is also providing a global shared experience and insights that could provide a pathway to a more just and sustainable world. The reduction of human activity and corresponding decline in fossil fuels resulting from COVID-19 has revealed a world that could be healthier when run with clean energy.  

As people across the globe stay home to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, CO2 emissions dropped worldwide as businesses closed and travel slowed. In China, carbon emissions dropped about 18 percent between early February and mid-March, according to Carbon Brief—in the process, the country avoided an estimated 250 million metric tons of carbon emissions.  Two months’ worth of reduced air pollution in China during stay-at-home orders saved an estimated 50,000 people who would have died prematurely, according to conservative estimate from a Stanford researcher.  

Italy entered one of the strictest lockdowns in the world as COVID-19 cases peaked and power demands fell concurrently. By the end of March, Italy’s energy demand was down 27 percent compared to the same period in 2019. The US and the EU—the world’s second and third largest carbon emitters, respectively—also saw drops in CO2 emissions. Since transportation is the single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the US, according to the EPA, stay-at-home orders could have a significant impact on the nation’s carbon footprint.  

This rings true for the people of Los Angeles, who are used to gray skies and traffic jams but now see blue skies and clear streets. In Venice, canals’ water became clear blue without boats stirring up the water. Residents in northern India saw the Himalayan mountains from their homes for the first time in 30 years as pollution levels dropped.   

The marked improvement in environmental health illustrates how the planet can regenerate when polluting, exploitive industries are put on pause. Imagine how clean and safe our world would be if we transitioned to renewable energy – and the improvements to human health from this transition. And, yet, we are already seeing in China that when a country returns to normal, unless the opportunity to move to greener energy is seized, pollution and the diseases it brings ratchet up quickly. Human and environmental health are inexorably linked and our policies must reflect this fact. 

COVID-19 is also creating a greener world as more people take up gardening at home and take action in their communities to support healthcare workers with supplies and food, provide masks to grocery store employees and other essential workers that come face to face with the public, and support food banks – just to name a few examples. The virus is reminding us that the untrammeled American pursuit of individual wealth leaves communities impoverished, and that it is the everyday people who are putting their lives at risk who most deserve our respect and support.  

A Greener and Fairer World Is Possible 

 As the financially wealthiest nation on Earth, we have the resources to address the human and economic devastation caused by COVID-19 and to move rapidly to an economy that will support all Americans, with goals of 100 percent clean energy, regenerative agriculture, and a living wage and healthcare for all.  

As a nation, we’ve been here before. Out of the Great Depression that devastated millions of people came the New Deal, which brought us programs like the Civilian Conservation Corps that put millions of people to work on infrastructure, Social Security, and collective bargaining for labor unions. We are still experiencing the benefits of the New Deal, including millions of people on social security, the electrification of all communities, workers’ rights, and regulation of financial markets. 

Economic fallout from the COVID-19 crisis should be solved by enacting the Green New Deal – this time addressing the climate crisis, while supporting all Americans, including the people of color originally left out of many New Deal programs.  

The stimulus bills passed in response to COVID-19 that aim to reinvigorate the US economy so far are merely designed to return us to normal and lack any measures to act on the climate crisis or address deep structural inequality. A return to normal, which would keep us on a pathway to climate disaster and increasing inequality, is not what we need and deserve as a nation. A Green New Deal, which is supported by Green America, would offer economic stimulus that would generate millions of clean energy jobs, accelerate a just transition away from fossil fuels, and equip the nation with tools to curb the worst effects of the climate crisis. It’s not far-fetched, either—wind turbine technicians and solar installers are already the fastest growing job sectors in the economy, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.  

A stimulus plan in alignment with climate resiliency and adaptation goals and regenerative agriculture practices would also prevent the spread of other potential novel viruses or other kinds of pandemics. For example, a warming climate allows insects such as mosquitoes and ticks to widen their habitat and spread disease; a plan that meets ambitious climate goals would avoid this.  

The US needs to: 

  • Move to 100 percent renewable energy by 2030, with a just transition away from fossil fuels. With the US being the second largest carbon emitter worldwide, the country must be a leader on this issue, and if we move to clean energy by 2030, other countries will follow. We will have a shot of keeping global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius and radically reduce the air pollution that causes hundreds of thousands of deaths and hundreds of billions of dollars in economic losses each year. If we end subsidies for fossil fuels and shift that support to renewable energy with high-paying, union jobs, we can get there. 

  • Shift to regenerative agriculture by 2035. The stimulus packages passed already support farmers but fail to shift farming to regenerative agriculture, which would absorb carbon already in the atmosphere, decrease the use of toxic chemicals, end the factory farming practices that endanger human health, and most importantly, provide great economic sustainability to farmers and rural communities.  

  • Create green infrastructure nationwide, including a smart grid and access to affordable electricity, universal access to clean drinking water, increased electric and high-speed rail and mass transportation, electric vehicle infrastructure, energy efficiency upgrades for all buildings, community climate mitigation and resilience, and restoration of damaged ecosystems. 

  • Require all companies and states receiving federal stimulus money and/or tax incentives to create a climate plan that results in net zero carbon emissions by 2035 and require all corporations to provide a living wage and protections from unsafe working conditions and toxic chemicals for all workers in their supply chains.  

  • Recognize housing and healthcare as a human right, and ensure all Americans are housed and insured. Raise the federal minimum wage to at least $15 per hour, and then increase it so all workers have a living income and provide all workers with paid sick and family leave. Create a pathway to free public college education and address crushing student loan debt and medical debts. 

  • End the mass incarceration of people of color and work to release nonviolent offenders. Protect frontline communities from toxic chemicals and pollution. Reverse policies that demonize immigrants and refugees, and create a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Increase investment in communities of color and entrepreneurs of color. 

These policies provide widespread economic, social justice and environmental benefits.  And they are completely doable.  Green America’s experience working with forward-looking corporations, the climate plans of leading states, and successful initiatives in other countries shows us that we can do all this and more, faster than we can imagine.  Together, we can go further, faster. 

A global pandemic is a tragic occurrence that we hope never occurs again. As we navigate this crisis, we must propel social and environmental justice forward to build a truly green economy, reverse the climate crisis and ensure stay-at-home orders are not the only way we get a clean environment in the future.  

We hope that because of the shared experience of the COVID-19 global pandemic, people across our country and around the world will understand at a more profound level that we are truly all connected. And that we need to work together to flatten, then reverse, the curves on the global crises facing humanity, from climate to hunger and homelessness to racism. May we all come together for a better future for all.  








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