The air around the world is cleaner, less pollutants entering the sea, streets are less noisy.

Families are spending time together, less planes flying around the world, luxury cruise ships are not dirtying up the sea. People are looking at local solutions for needs, and taking time to wash their hands.

The hectic pace of the world has slowed. We’re breathing consciously; grateful for being alive.

Yes, we will overcome this virus. But I hope we will fall in love with this new way of being. 

Author Unknown

 

Two weeks ago, my niece Bess sent me this thoughtful mini-essay about the pandemic’s effects on our lives on Planet Earth. It made me hopeful (for a minute or so) that something good might emerge from all the suffering and death. The author implies that we should consider the benefits of diminished commercial and industrial activity on our planet and resolve not to return to the status quo ante.

 

Would that that were a possibility!  But you know it isn’t.

 

You know we will rush headlong to return to pre-coronavirus activities, and it will be deemed patriotic to do so. We will be urged to take to the air to revive our airline industry. We will be urged to spend, spend, spend to revive our retail industry. We will be urged to drive, drive, drive to revive our auto and oil and gas industries. We will be urged to invest, invest, invest to boost the stock market. The Holy Grail of the recovery will be increased profits for the country’s private enterprises. If I were a betting man (and I most assuredly am), I would wager all the money I could find that we will measure the progress of our recovery entirely in economic terms. More specifically, we will measure it in a way that Ayn Rand would have loved, by corporate profits and stock prices. Count on it. 

 

Predictably, President Trump couldn’t wait for pandemic’s curve to flatten before resuming his pro-industry, anti-environment crusade. With the world distracted by the ravages of the pandemic (or so he thought) it was the perfect time to 1) to help out the petroleum industry, now in a tailspin, and 2) to take a dig at a man he despises — Barak Obama — by undoing one of the most consequential pro-environment measures put in place by the former president.

 

Yes sir,  on March 31 Trump announced that fuel-efficiency standards for vehicles will be relaxed. It will be good for the petroleum industry but bad for our planet because more carbon dioxide will rise into the already soupy atmosphere. Read about it here: 

 

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/30/climate/trump-fuel-economy.html

 

As the article points out, Trump’s move not only will help the petroleum business, but also will be welcomed by his base, which includes macho pick-up and SUV drivers who think good gas mileage is for liberal sissies.  He wants them to know that real Americans drive massive, powerful vehicles and that he stands with them to assure an ample supply of gas-guzzlers in the future, unlike his commie predecessor. 

 

The move is also being portrayed as a boost to the auto industry in a time of likely recession. It is nothing of the sort: As the article points out, auto manufacturers opposed relaxing emission rules, fearing the confusion and litigation that would ensue.  

 

No, this was a political plum tossed to the petroleum industry that will drastically increase air pollution, thus hastening climate disaster. And it happened at a time when we can actually show that economic inactivity has reduced atmospheric pollution. Before-and-after satellite photos showing a marked decrease in air pollution in the wake of Covid-19 are readily available. Here is some data about one country, India. 

 

https://www.cnn.com/2020/03/31/asia/coronavirus-lockdown-impact-pollution-india-intl-hnk/index.html

 

It’s quixotic to dream that there are better ways to handle the recovery. But indulge me. What if  . . . 

 

  • Our political leaders here and abroad looked at those satellite photos and at least pondered ways to prevent a return to pre-pandemic air pollution levels?
  • Our political leaders noticed that businesses could run remotely via innovations like Zoom conferences, and figured out ways to be less reliant on corporate air travel?
  • We had a leader in the White House who used his bully pulpit to start a national conversation about things we learned to do without during the pandemic?
  • We had a leader in the White House who saw the pandemic as a pause in our rush to destroy the Earth and wondered out loud whether a rush back to full-throttle consumerism was the right path for the nation and the world?
  • We had elected leaders who, as a result of the forced pause caused by the pandemic, decided that what is good for business is not always good for humanity?

 

I can almost guarantee that when the dust settles on the just-passed economic stimulus package, we will find that the oil and gas industry has been the beneficiary of significant government largesse. The industry is on track to produce twice as much oil, gas, and coal by 2030 as the amount that could be burned while keeping the global temperature rise to only 1.5C  — the goal of the Paris Climate Accords. And you may rest assured that our government will subsidize this suicidal rush to mutual destruction. The extraction industries are going to kill us. And our tax dollars in the form of government stimulus will help them do it. 

 

We are living through a time of greatly reduced greenhouse gas emissions due to the pandemic.  If we’re serious about saving our planet, now is the time to re-think what a recovery should look like. Maybe it’s a pipe dream to think that we might thoughtfully consider alternatives as we spend trillions in stimulus money. But why not dream?

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About Buck Close

Buck CloseDeacon Buck Close serves on the staff of the Church of St. John the Evangelist in Newport, RI. He was born in South Carolina, graduated from Tulane University in 1972 with a BA in Economics and Latin American Studies.

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