“They are incredibly, incredibly brave at what they do…. And I just realized—I didn’t realize this, I admit—that federal firefighters get paid 13 dollars an hour,” Biden said. (The Cajon Pass between Las Vegas and Los Angeles during the Blue Cut Fire in August 2016. Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
I’m a young person in the 21st century, and I’ve been prepping for the apocalypse for as long as I can remember. Las Vegas has made headlines for the extreme economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our tourism based economy, and for the uneven response of our elected leaders. Las Vegas is also on the frontlines of the climate crisis, as the fastest warming city in the United States. As we begin to imagine life after the pandemic, we have an opportunity to reshape our financial systems toward climate mitigation and decarbonization.
The catastrophic economic impacts of the pandemic demand a bold response. With the oil industry in freefall and the effects of the climate crisis mounting, we have an opportunity to rebuild from this collapse with an ambitious agenda for full employment and full decarbonization: the Green New Deal. No matter what path our recovery takes, we will be creating a new society out of the ashes of what used to be. Why does it have to follow the old rules?
Unlike COVID-19, the climate crisis is slow-moving and many people erroneously feel that they haven’t experienced the impacts yet. Conversely, the circumstances surrounding COVID-19 deteriorated abruptly and are affecting people everywhere. Yet, both threaten many of the same aspects of our lives. Indeed it is likely that the climate crisis, coupled with an unnatural and exploitative relationship with wildlife, will increase the likelihood and severity of future pandemics.
Like COVID-19, the causes of the climate crisis also pose concrete health risks. The use of fossil fuels leads to health disorders in workers and toxins in our environment. Air pollution from burning fossil fuels causes an estimated 8.8 million deaths each year. These impacts disproportionately affect communities of color, a phenomenon called environmental racism. This in turn makes these communities more vulnerable to respiratory illnesses like COVID-19.
Natural disasters, food insecurity, and other effects of the climate crisis will also disrupt Nevada’s economy, much like COVID-19. The inevitable response will reshape whole sectors of the financial system. The repercussions of the climate crisis are a long-term financial risk and will also lead to political unrest as the effects bear down on the most vulnerable.
In short, our best way out of this multi-pronged emergency is the Green New Deal. COVID-19 necessitates a sweeping response from both federal and state governments and a massive mobilization of resources to regenerate the economy. It must at the same time ensure a just recovery supporting the most vulnerable. That’s what the Green New Deal can provide. The Green New Deal consists of a jobs guarantee, Medicare For All, and other essential social components. We can ensure the economic upheaval that will come with ameliorating the climate crisis will not leave anyone behind. Additionally, we need aid that addresses environmental and economic issues. One without the other will not ease this period of instability.
This restructuring should not only focus on the climate, of course. The Green New Deal outlines the transition to an economy that works for everyone. We can provide high-paying union jobs, rebuild infrastructure for sustainability, and focus on the most vulnerable. COVID-19 has also shown how essential the just transition off fossil fuels is. During the economic fallout from of COVID-19, one of the hardest hit sectors has been the American oil industry. While we should not simply bail out the industry, we must make sure not to leave these workers behind either.
That’s why the Green New Deal is so important for this moment, as it also lays out an economic stimulus plan. During the Great Depression, the Civilian Conservation Corps was an integral part of the financial recovery. Today, we can provide good-paying union jobs for all of Nevada’s workers in need, with an emphasis on expanding renewable energy, building affordable housing, and improving existing green infrastructure. We must confront wealth inequality, racism and the climate crisis.
One key part of this is ensuring there are no fossil fuel bailouts. We should not continue to dump money in the fossil fuel industry, which has put us on a course for climate disaster. The guiding principle of any bailouts should focus on workers, not executives. Aid that goes to industries that contribute to the climate crisis should include conditions to reduce and ultimately eliminate greenhouse gas emissions.
We cannot discount the importance of redefining business as usual. The response has shown that there is power in individual actions. The changes people are making—shopping local, changing consumption patterns and limiting travel—all are beneficial to the planet in small ways. People can act collectively for the common good. However, even with the drastic individual actions, we’ve barely made a dent in global emissions.
The experience of COVID-19 shows that the reaction to emergencies can be dramatic, swift, and scaled to the crisis at hand. The level of response required to meet the climate crisis head-on is not impossible. It’s just going to take a lot of work. Nevada’s elected officials can start by supporting the Green New Deal, to rebuild our economy from the wreckage of COVID-19 toward a more sustainable future for our communities and our planet.
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